Dark money ads aim to derail efforts to end surprise medical bills

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen highlights the average cost of surprise medical bills during her Senate floor remarks. (COURTESY PHOTO)

WASHINGTON D.C. — U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen spoke on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, Sept. 25, to call out the dark money special interests that have flooded states across the country, including New Hampshire, with millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements aimed at derailing efforts in Congress to end surprise medical billing.

A report by the New York Times revealed that the group behind this ad campaign, Doctor Patient Unity, is a front for private equity firms on Wall Street.

During her remarks, Shaheen made clear that this ad campaign of misinformation and fear is a consequence of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

“Due to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, special interests can spend unlimited amounts of money and they can stay anonymous. This ad campaign is not only confusing to voters — it’s Exhibit A on how our campaign finance system is broken,” Shaheen said. “The voices of Granite Staters who are struggling to pay surprise medical bills are being drowned out, in this case, by private equity firms on Wall Street who are making billions off of the status quo.”

Shaheen continued by explaining how physician-staffing companies, at the behest of private equity firms, abuse the health-care system to profit off of patients.

“First, surprise medical bills usually occur when a patient visits an in-network hospital … But the doctor who sees me is not a doctor who’s in the network of my insurance company. So, unbeknownst to me as I go into the emergency room, that doctor is what’s called out-of-network. These doctors often are working for physician staffing companies that have gone out-of-network so that they can aggressively pursue surprise bills,” she said. “These physician-staffing companies are also using these surprise medical bills to negotiate, to command in-network payments from insurers that are often twice as high as the average, which can result in higher insurance premiums for everyone.”

Shaheen highlighted the personal experience of Donald and Kathy Cavallaro from Rye, who faced a surprise medical bill of $5,000 when the doctor performing Kathy’s emergency surgery turned out to not be covered by their insurance.

Shaheen said that this is not a rare occurrence.

“One in six emergency room visits in New Hampshire result in a surprise bill for Granite Staters who have large employer coverage,” she said. “Nationally, the average cost of a surprise bill from an emergency room visit is more than $600. And the average surprise bill for inpatient care is over $2,000. Surprise bills like these can easily put a family budget in the red, and Congress desperately needs to put a stop to them.”

Shaheen urged her Senate colleagues to tune out these special interests and move forward with efforts to end the practice of surprise medical billing.

“This is about making sure that when a Granite Stater or any American goes to the hospital that they can have faith that their insurance will cover their costs … These advertisements should also serve as a reminder that Congress must reform our broken campaign finance system. So, in closing Madame President, I want to send a very clear message: I don’t care how many ads these special interests run, how many mailers they send or how many millions they spend … Health-care costs are completely out of control and tackling surprise medical bills must remain at the top of the Senate’s agenda.”

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