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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Hospitals are the largest contributor to rising health care costs in the U.S., yet have gone unmentioned in the Democratic presidential debates so far — a reflection of their relative political popularity over drug companies and insurers.

Yes, but: Hospitals are fighting multiple battles in Washington, where lawmakers and the White House seem increasingly emboldened to take them on.

What they're saying: Democrats repeatedly demonized drug and insurance companies during this week's debates — but not hospitals.

  • "All of [the candidates] lack the courage to name the one major obstacle to getting any meaningful reform done: the hospitals and medical providers who create the most costs in the system by a wide margin," David Dayen wrote in The American Prospect.
  • The Atlantic's Olga Khazan made a similar point, asking, "Why Won't Democrats Blame Hospitals?"

Between the lines: Most people don't visit hospitals very often, thus avoiding expensive hospital bills. Everyone sleeps a little easier knowing that there's a hospital nearby in case something bad happens. And the hospital lobby is strong and friendly with Democrats.

  • "Policy issues generally require a villain, and I’m not sure hospitals make a good villain for Democrats. In recent years, especially around the ACA and efforts to protect it from repeal, Democrats and hospitals have been allies," the Kaiser Family Foundation's Larry Levitt said.

Yes, but: Hospitals are still getting more scrutiny in Washington than they're comfortable with.

  • The Trump administration this week wants to force hospitals to disclose the prices they've negotiated with insurers — a policy the industry loathes.
  • Hospitals and doctors didn't get their way in Congress' initial effort to tackle surprise medical billing; they're lobbying for changes that would make the final proposal more provider-friendly. (The House already caved.)
  • Federal payment cuts to hospitals are set to take effect this fall, and Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley has hinted that he wants to ensure at least some of those cuts will really happen.

Go deeper: Think drug costs are bad? Try hospital prices

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - World

Mexican President López Obrador tests positive for coronavirus

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during a press conference at National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, on Wednesday. Photo: Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced Sunday evening that he's tested positive for COVID-19.

Driving the news: López Obrador tweeted that he has mild symptoms and is receiving medical treatment. "As always, I am optimistic," he added. "We will all move forward."

7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor of Arkansas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders at FOX News' studios in New York City in 2019. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will announce Monday that she's running for governor of Arkansas.

The big picture: Sanders was touted as a contender after it was announced she was leaving the Trump administration in June 2019. Then-President Trump tweeted he hoped she would run for governor, adding "she would be fantastic." Sanders is "seen as leader in the polls" in the Republican state, notes the Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, who first reported the news.

Coronavirus has inflamed global inequality

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

History will likely remember the pandemic as the "first time since records began that inequality rose in virtually every country on earth at the same time." That's the verdict from Oxfam's inequality report covering the year 2020 — a terrible year that hit the poorest, hardest across the planet.

Why it matters: The world's poorest were already in a race against time, facing down an existential risk in the form of global climate change. The coronavirus pandemic could set global poverty reduction back as much as a full decade, according to the World Bank.