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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Ending surprise medical bills inspires bipartisan kumbaya in a way nearly unheard of these days, and yet a brutal lobbying and public relations blitz by doctor and hospital groups is threatening to kill the entire effort.

Driving the news: Provider-backed groups are spending millions of dollars to sway lawmakers and the public opinion against Congress's efforts to ban surprise billing, according to a handful of recent reports.

Details:

  • A dark money group called Doctor Patient Unity has spent more than $13 million on advertising in states where senators are up for re-election, Bloomberg Government reported on Monday — the most expensive campaign on any congressional health care topic this year.
  • Modern Healthcare's Susannah Luthi reported yesterday that some congressional staffers worry that the provider onslaught will cause the entire surprise billing effort to collapse. The staffers say that may be what the groups want; providers insist this isn't the case.
  • My colleague Bob Herman reported last week that physician outsourcing companies — which are often the source of surprise medical bills — and private equity firms have flooded Congress with lobbyists.

The other side: Other congressional aides are less worried about the surprise billing effort being killed.

  • “If anything, [providers'] tactics are backfiring. Compassion is winning. Members are more concerned for patients than a profit fight between industries," a GOP aide familiar with the effort told me.
  • Instead, “members are beginning to question private equity’s interest in this. What is it they’re willing to invest $13 million to save and why are they hiding behind dark money?”

Go deeper

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
4 hours ago - Health

Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has picked former FDA chief David Kessler to lead Operation Warp Speed, a day after unveiling a nearly $2 trillion pandemic relief plan that includes $400 billion for directly combatting the virus.

Why it matters: Biden's transition team said Kessler has been advising the president-elect since the beginning of the pandemic, and hopes his involvement will help accelerate vaccination, the New York Times reports. Operation Warp Speed's current director, Moncef Slaoui, will stay on as a consultant.

The case of the missing relief money

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A chunk of stimulus payments is missing in action, thanks to a mix up that put as many as 13 million checks into invalid bank accounts.

Why it matters: The IRS (by law) was supposed to get all payments out by Friday. Now the onus could shift to Americans to claim the money on their tax refund — further delaying relief to struggling, lower-income Americans.

The post-Trump GOP, gutted

McConnell (L), McCarthy (R) and Trump. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Republicans will emerge from the Trump era gutted financially, institutionally and structurally.

The big picture: The losses are stark and substantial.