Elizabeth Warren Wants PE Firms to Come Clean on Surprise Medical Billing
Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, speaks during a “Take on Wall Street” news conference in Washington (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Elizabeth Warren Wants PE Firms to Come Clean on Surprise Medical Billing

(Bloomberg) -- In her latest attack against private equity firms, Senator Elizabeth Warren called on industry leaders to disclose whether companies they own engage in surprise medical billing.

The Massachusetts Democrat, who is seeking her party’s presidential nomination, joined two House colleagues in sending letters to five firms seeking details on their investments in medical transport and doctor staffing firms accused of charging patients exorbitant prices for out-of-network emergency care.

“We have concerns about the rapid spread and effect of private equity investment in many sectors of the economy,” Warren said in the letter that was also signed by House Democrats Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Lloyd Doggett of Texas. “We are particularly concerned about your firm’s investment in physician staffing companies or emergency medical transportation service companies.”

Blackstone Group Inc., one of the firms that Warren sent a letter to, said its TeamHealth unit doesn’t engage in surprise medical billing. KKR & Co., which also was sent a letter, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawmakers’ letters cited findings that two-thirds of U.S. hospitals rely on private physician staffing companies, many of which are owned by private equity firms. The Democrats also noted that two-thirds of air ambulance trips and half of ambulance rides aren’t covered by insurers.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has advanced a bill that would protect patients against unexpected bills when they receive treatment by out-of-network doctors working at in-network hospitals. Members of the Senate are trying to work out differences over legislation to address the issue.

The letter from Warren and other Democrats is false and baseless, a Blackstone spokesman said in a statement. TeamHealth, a health-care staffing company it agreed to buy in 2016, has a long-standing policy against surprise billing and fully supports legislation to end the practice through independent arbitration, Blackstone said.

Warren could use the information from the private equity firms to build support for her “Stop Wall Street Looting Act.” Her bill would limit the dividends private equity firms can pay themselves and restrict tax breaks for the debt placed on the companies they buy. She has previously attacked private equity firms’ over their investments in private prisons, for-profit colleges and manufactured housing communities.

The lawmakers asked the firms to respond by Oct. 30.

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