Private Equity has sabotaged every attempt to end emergency room “surprise billing”

Private Equity has sabotaged every attempt to end emergency room “surprise billing”

October 21, 2021

Originally published at

Cory Doctorow

“Surprise billing” is when you go to the ER and discover that the doc, the specialist, or the test you got were performed by “independent contractors” who are not part of the hospital’s deal with your insurer. It means bills for thousands (literally) for an ice-pack.

The surprise billing epidemic has an unsurprising root cause: private equity looters who buy up doctor’s groups and specialists’ practices for the express purpose of gouging people experiencing medical emergencies (or their parents – it’s rampant in NICUs).

It’s working: “The odds of getting a surprise bill increased from 32% (2010) to 43% (2016), with amounts rising from $220 to $628. Out of network billing raises health care costs by $40 billion per year.”

The PE firms behind it are the largest in the world: Teamhealth (formerly Blackrock, now KKR) raised ER bills by 68%. They have plenty left over to lobby for expanded shenanigan powers.

Two Congressional bills to address surprise billing were killed by PE astroturf operations where fake groups like “Physicians for Fair Coverage” ($1.2m) and Doctor Patient Unity ($28m) spent millions lobbying and advertising against the bills.

One measure nearly squeaked through, only to be sabotaged by Rep Richard Neal [D-MA], who snuck in a “compromise” that sent all disputes to a corporate arbitrator on the payroll of the PE firms, who would decide whether their paymasters had acted unfairly when they billed you.

The measure rescued the share-price of Envision and Teamhealth, reassuring investors that the gouging could continue uninterrupted.