Skip to main content

Common Dreams. Journalism funded by people, not corporations.

There has never been—and never will be—an advertisement on our site except for this one: without readers like you supporting our work, we wouldn't exist.

No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news and opinion 365 days a year that is freely available to all and funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

Our mission is clear. Our model is simple. If you can, please support our Fall Campaign today.

Support Our Work -- No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. Please support our Fall Campaign today.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) holds a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on the deal reached on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade pact on Tuesday, December 10, 2019. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

Top Dem Accused of Putting Private Equity Before Sick and Poor by Killing Effort to End 'Devastating' Surprise Medical Bills

One critic said Rep. Richard Neal, the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is "actively helping private equity-owned doctor groups rip off and destroy the lives of people at their most vulnerable."

Jake Johnson

Rep. Richard Neal, Democratic chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, teamed up with a Republican ally last week to effectively torpedo bipartisan legislation that aimed to curb surprise medical bills—a major source of financial pain for people who experience medical emergencies and other serious ailments.

Last Sunday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Health Committee announced a bipartisan agreement on legislation to shield the U.S. public from the "devastating financial toll of surprise medical bills."

The chairmen of the two committees, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), expressed hope that the legislation would be included in the must-pass spending legislation Congress is expected to approve by Friday.

"Every day that goes by is another loss for America's families and another win for private equity."
—Shawn Gremminger, Families USA

But Neal, who has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from a private equity group opposed to the Pallone-Alexander measure, had other plans.

Three days after Pallone and Alexander announced their agreement, Neal and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), the top Republican on Ways and Means, countered with a more industry-friendly plan that would place billing decisions in the hands of a third-party arbiter, an idea favored by powerful hospital and doctor groups.

The Hill reported last Friday that surprise billing legislation will not be in the year-end spending measure, which does include big tax breaks for the healthcare industry.

"With the key committees in the House pushing competing ideas, leadership is waiting until next year" to act on surprise medical billing, The Hill noted.

Neal and Brady's announcement of competing legislation sparked outrage among members of Congress and outside progressives who said delaying action on surprise billing until 2020 could kill any hopes of a solution.

"Every day that goes by is another loss for America's families and another win for private equity," said Shawn Gremminger, senior director of federal affairs for consumer group Families USA. "The primary committees of jurisdiction have been negotiating a deal for months and now there is a bipartisan, bicameral bill on the table that has the support of the White House and can pass by Dec. 20."

Freelance journalist Jon Walker said that by thwarting the effort to curb surprise medical billing before the end of the year, Neal is "actively helping private equity-owned doctor groups rip off and destroy the lives of people at their most vulnerable."

"Let's be clear about what is happening," Walker tweeted. "Democrats pretend they want to improve healthcare and when they have a chance they take the side of wealthy for-profit companies with the most ghoulish business practices imaginable."

"At the eleventh hour, turf wars in the House and corporate special interests appear to be standing in the way of passing these vital protections for patients into law."
—Spokeswoman for Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.)

Surprise medical bills often come after a patient receives treatment from a doctor or hospital outside the network covered by their insurance plan.

Under the Pallone-Alexander agreement, the New York Times reported, "doctors who provide care that is out-of-network for a patient's insurance [would] automatically be paid the median price of in-network doctors in the area" instead of the exorbitant prices under the status quo.

Hospital and doctor groups backed by private equity have spent millions of dollars lobbying against congressional action to tackle surprise medical billing, worrying that legislation could cut into their profits.

Blackstone Group, a private equity firm that owns the physician staffing organization TeamHealth, donated $29,000 to Neal's 2020 reelection campaign this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), who worked on the Senate Health Committee proposal, told The Hill that it is "extremely disappointing that now, at the eleventh hour, turf wars in the House and corporate special interests appear to be standing in the way of passing these vital protections for patients into law."

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) expressed similar disappointment. "You wonder who made the call to stop our bill, but clearly the best interest of the patient is not at heart," Walden told The Hill.

Others said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) shares a portion of the blame for failing to overrule Neal.

"Nancy Pelosi allowing Rep. Neal to kill surprise billing protection to pay back his big [private equity] donors is the most disgusting story in D.C. right now," said Walker.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Corporate Dems of US Senate Blamed as GOP Texas Governor Approves 'Rigged' Voting Maps

"We must protect our democracy with federal legislation immediately and defeat these cynical politicians at the ballot box."

Jessica Corbett ·


'An Act of Cowardice': 21 Israel-Based Groups Condemn Terror Label for Palestine NGOs

The organizations called the designation "a draconian measure that criminalizes critical human rights work."

Brett Wilkins ·


The Facebook Papers Spur More Calls to 'Break Them Up!'

Other critics are demanding a "full, independent, outside investigation" of the tech titan as whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies to the U.K. Parliament.

Jessica Corbett ·


'This Is an Emergency': Oxfam Says Rich Nations' $100 Billion Climate Pledge Not Good Enough

"Time is running out for rich nations to build trust and deliver on their unmet target."

Andrea Germanos ·


Progressives Vow to 'Push Very Hard' to Keep Agenda From Being Gutted Beyond Recognition

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said House Democrats "are fighting to tackle the climate crisis, expand Medicare to cover dental, vision, and hearing, and guarantee family leave in America."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo