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Surprise medical bills are a hot-button issue for voters, and Congress has been looking at solutions to protect Americans from these types of charges.
However, the proposed legislation with the most progress this year is making more and more concessions to physicians.
Doctors are also very effective lobbyists.
Kaiser Health News (KHN) reported on an “extraordinary on-the-ground stealth campaign” to win over members of Congress. For example, when Carol Pak-Teng, an emergency room physician from New Jersey, hosted a fundraiser in December for freshman U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-NJ, she invited mostly doctors as guests. They used the opportunity to tell Malinowski that any surprise billing legislation should protect doctors’ incomes.
KHN believes the professional credentials of doctors like Pak-Teng gives them unrivaled credibility compared with other lobbyists when they speak with lawmakers.
Doctors say they are taking most of the heat for surprise billing, but hospitals and doctors have also been the most powerful in shaping surprise billing legislation. That success comes from the private equity-backed companies that employ them and have years of experience shaping surprise billing legislation at the state level.
These companies have already funneled millions to lawmakers ahead of the 2020 elections. This chart from KHN analyzed the flow of money from the political action committees of four physicians’ groups to their top nine recipients.
“We by necessity place a tremendous amount of trust in our physicians,” Zack Cooper, an assistant professor at Yale University who has extensively researched surprise medical bills, told KHN. “Frankly, they have an easier time lobbying members [of Congress] than the folks who are affected by surprise billing.”
Private equity firms have also been spending money on TV and internet ads to influence lawmakers. These messages prompted U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-OR, to launch a bipartisan probe with Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ, after Walden accused them of “misleading and scaring people.”
Do you think doctors should have so much influence over surprise billing legislation? Share your voice.