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Private Equity Firms Bankroll Powerful House Committee’s Leaders to Defend Surprise Billing Profits

Two Private Equity Firms and Their Health Care Holdings Have Given Ways & Means Committee’s Leaders Nearly $400,000

Surprise Billin
Surprise Billing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Two private equity firms that own health care staffing companies have bankrolled the leaders of the powerful U.S. House Ways & Means Committee in an apparent effort to block or weaken legislation that would protect patients from being socked with surprise medical bills, a Public Citizen report released today shows.

Surprise bills are those received by patients who have health insurance but through no fault of their own are cared for by a doctor or other medical provider who is not in the insurance company’s network. They often occur when patients unwittingly receive care from a physician who works for a third-party physician staffing company that is out-of-network. Private equity firms like Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe (WCAS) and Blackstone are increasingly invested in companies that provide the types of staffing services that can ensnare unsuspecting patients.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want to stop these incidents but have been thwarted by the powerful House Ways & Means Committee.

House and U.S. Senate negotiators worked last year on legislation that would have stopped surprise billing but would have hurt private equity companies. But as they closed in on a bipartisan deal last fall, the House Ways & Means Committee released an outline of legislation that was in virtual lockstep with the private equity industry’s wish list and far removed from the other negotiators’ proposal, killing the momentum for passage of the legislation.

Records show that employees or political action committees connected to private equity firms WCAS and Blackstone have given $335,400 to Ways & Means Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and $55,800 to Ways & Means Chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) Nearly all of this money, 95%, was contributed to the two politicians since 2015, when the spike in contributions started and when discussions about surprise billing legislation started ramping up.

In 2019 alone, these entities together contributed about $60,000 to Brady and $36,000 to Neal.

Additionally, Public Citizen’s report reveals:

  • Blackstone employees contributed $30,800 to Neal in September 2019 alone. That accounted for three-fourths of the money they have given Neal in his 31-year career. Less than two months later, Neal’s Ways & Means Committee released the outline of its proposed giveaway to the private equity industry, torpedoing a bipartisan, bicameral compromise.
  • WCAS employees contributed $45,000 to Brady on a single day in 2019. That’s more money than they gave Brady in any full election cycle in his career.
  • Sixty-six employees plus the PAC of U.S. Anesthesia Partners, a WCAS portfolio company, contributed to Brady in just one month in 2017. Six WCAS employees, including one who serves on U.S. Anesthesia Partners’ board, also contributed to Brady that month.

These companies also have helped underwrite fear-mongering advertising campaigns if providers are restricted to charging market rates for their services.

“If the private equity firms showed half the generosity toward their patients that they showed the leaders of the Ways & Means Committee, we’d have a surprise billing fix tomorrow,” said Mike Tanglis, a research director at Public Citizen and author of the report. “But ultimately, the blame for the failed legislation lies at the feet of politicians who took the private equity money and did the bidding of the private equity companies.”

“The debate over surprise bills highlights the biggest problems with our health care system,” said Eagan Kemp, Public Citizen’s health care policy advocate. “It underscores that our health care system is unnavigable. Those seeking to maintain the status quo are investors who are obsessed with squeezing obscene profits out of the system. And restricting patients to confusing networks of providers is counter to the objective of providing the best care.”

Read the full report here.