Tennessee Physician Staffing Firms Are Behind Ads Resisting Surprise Medical Bill Legislation | Nashville Public Radio

Tennessee Physician Staffing Firms Are Behind Ads Resisting Surprise Medical Bill Legislation

Sep 20, 2019

An upstart political group airing ads that oppose surprise medical bill legislation is backed by the two largest physician staffing companies in the U.S. — both based in Tennessee.

A so-called "dark money" group named Doctor Patient Unity started funneling money into TV and web ads in late July. They frame efforts by Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander to ban surprise medical billing as “government rate setting.” And the ads suggest it could lead to the closure of more rural hospitals.

The New York Times reports the group has spent more than $28 million so far. And a spokesman now confirms that TeamHealth and Envision Healthcare are the largest financial backers.

Envision is headquartered in Nashville. TeamHealth is based in Knoxville, with large offices in Middle Tennessee.

"While the No Surprises Act in the House of Representatives and the Lower Health Care Costs Act in the Senate both prohibit balance billing and limit patient responsibility for co-pay and deductible to in-network amounts, both contain a third element that will slant negotiating leverage toward insurance companies," TeamHealth CEO Leif Murphy says in a written statement.

Both companies have said they are trying to reduce or even eliminate out-of-network billing, which is what often constitutes as a surprise bill. And they place most of the blame on giant insurance companies.

"Protecting patients’ access to quality care is a shared responsibility, but insurers continue to shift costs onto patients through high deductible health plans, coverage denials and narrow networks that exclude physicians," Envision says in a statement. "We are doing our part. It’s time insurers are held accountable."

Envision and TeamHealth have their own profit motives. Both were purchased in the last few years by private equity firms. A congressional committee has now launched an investigation into whether private equity’s move into physician staffing has made the problem worse.