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Alexander Takes Swipe at Physician Staffing Firms as Surprise Billing Legislation Stalls

Sen. Alexander's office

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander’s compromise to end surprise medical bills held together for only one day. Now, it has fallen apart as Congress prepares to take a holiday break.

In announcing the delay, Alexander took a swipe at the handful of physician staffing firms who’ve been working against him.

“The only people who don’t want this fixed are the people who benefit from these excessive fees, including the private equity groups which control three of the largest companies that handle billing and staffing for emergency rooms,” Alexander said in a written statement.

The dispute has been politically awkward for Alexander since two main opponents happen to be based in Tennessee. TeamHealth based in Knoxville and Envision headquartered in Nashville run roughly one-third of all emergency rooms in the U.S. And they’ve both been accused of using out-of-network billing to make more money and negotiate higher in-network rates from insurance companies.

As debate began on surprise billing legislation, doctors and hospitals were resistant. But in the end, it’s been physician staffing firms that have worked hard against the measure, says Rachel Bluth, correspondent for Kaiser Health News.

“They’re really spending millions and millions of dollars to put ads on the air, to put ads online, to lobby, to make campaign contributions,” she says. “They have played an outsized role in this debate because they have the most to lose.”

Bluth says the issue is unlikely to be taken up in an election year, even though voters hate getting out-of-network bills from doctors at in-network hospitals.

The staffing firms both say they want to end surprise medical bills, but they’re worried about giving up too much ground to dominant insurance companies, who could set prices unreasonably low.

“We will continue to seek a balanced solution that eliminates surprise medical bills without taking Sen. Alexander’s approach of giving outsize power to the insurance industry that will result in loss off access to care for patients,” a TeamHealth spokesperson says in a statement.

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