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Saturday, September 14, 2019

Dark Money Doctors

Margot Sanger-Katz, Julie Creswell and Reed Abelson at NYT report on a group fighting a bill to end surprise out-of-network medical bills.
Then, in late July, a mysterious group called Doctor Patient Unity showed up. It poured vast sums of money — now more than $28 million — into ads opposing the legislation, without disclosing its staff or its funders.
Now, the mystery is solved. The two largest financial backers of Doctor Patient Unity are TeamHealth and Envision Healthcare, private-equity-backed companies that own physician practices and staff emergency rooms around the country, according to Greg Blair, a spokesman for the group.

A recent academic analysis of filings from a large commercial insurance company found that the firms, though Envision more than TeamHealth, have routinely operated outside the insurance networks of hospitals where their doctors practice. This often leads to surprise bills for patients.
Like all so-called dark money political action groups, Doctor Patient Unity is not legally required to reveal the names of its supporters and, in fact, appears to have worked hard to obscure its identity.
The bread crumbs were scant. Filings by the group to the Federal Communications Commission for purposes of advertising listed the name of a treasurer who works for a firm that often fills such roles for Republican political groups. The group’s corporate filing in Virginia lists an agent who is common to more than 150 other political action groups. Neither the treasurer, the named partners in her firm, the advertising firm or the lawyer associated with the corporate entity responded to calls or emails. An email to the address on the group’s bare-bones website went unanswered for weeks until the group’s statement on Friday.