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Physician staffing groups that generate large amounts of surprise medical bills are behind Doctor Patient Unity, the dark-money group running $28 million in ads against Congress' effort to crack down on surprise bills, the New York Times reports.

The two staffing groups, TeamHealth and Envision Healthcare, supply emergency room doctors, radiologists and anesthesiologists to hospitals — specialties that are among the most likely to be out-of-network for patients. Both groups are backed by private equity.

Between the lines: Envision and TeamHealth have a lot to lose from a ban on surprise billing, as it's a lucrative practice for them.

  • The kinds of physicians they employ have a steady patient supply regardless of whether they're in those patients' insurance network. That creates the opportunity for them to charge sky-high rates and then bill patients for what their insurer won't cover.
  • The threat of going out-of-network also gives these providers leverage in their negotiations with insurers, causing in-network rates — and thus premiums — to rise.
  • Congress' leading solution to surprise billing would likely decrease this leverage and thus lead to lower in-network rates for these doctors.

My thought bubble: The choice before lawmakers now could not be more Washington-in-2019: Side with voters getting slammed by these bills, or side with the private equity-backed groups profiting from them.

Go deeper: We all pay for surprise emergency room bills

Go deeper

Trump pardons Bannon in final hours of presidency

Steve Bannon. Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

President Trump issued an eleventh-hour pardon to his former chief strategist Steve Bannon on Tuesday night, sparing a longtime ally from a federal fraud prosecution over his alleged misappropriation of nonprofit funds.

Why it matters: Bannon was the most high-profile name on a White House list of what's expected to be dozens pardons and commutations, with hours remaining in Trump’s presidency. His pardon of the former Breitbart News chief came as Bannon faced criminal charges stemming from a scheme to privately finance a southern border wall.

Ina Fried, author of Login
2 hours ago - Technology

Scoop: Google is investigating the actions of another top AI ethicist

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Photo by Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Google is investigating recent actions by Margaret Mitchell, who helps lead the company's ethical AI team, Axios has confirmed.

Why it matters: The probe follows the forced exit of Timnit Gebru, a prominent researcher also on the AI ethics team at Google whose ouster ignited a firestorm among Google employees.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Joe Biden's COVID-19 bubble

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The incoming administration is planning extraordinary steps to protect its most prized commodity, Joe Biden, including requiring daily employee COVID tests and N95 masks at all times, according to new guidance sent to some incoming employees Tuesday.

Why it matters: The president-elect is 78 years old and therefore a high risk for the virus and its worst effects, despite having received the vaccine. While President Trump's team was nonchalant about COVID protocols — leading to several super-spreader episodes — the new rules will apply to all White House aides in "high proximity to principals."