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Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, leaves a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus in the Capitol on January 4, 2019. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

'Neal Is in Trouble': $300,000 Ad Campaign Targets Powerful Congressman Over Stonewalling of Anti-Surprise Medical Billing Proposal

"All of a sudden taking corporate money and crafting policy to benefit monopolies can now get you in trouble back home."

Julia Conley

A new $300,000 ad campaign launched by an anti-monopoly non-profit group is taking aim at longtime Rep. Richard Neal, airing in the congressman's home district in western Massachusetts and drawing attention to his stonewalling of anti-surprise medical billing legislation—in favor of a proposal that would have benefited one of his top donors.

As the Fight Corporate Monopolies-sponsored ad explains, late last year the 16-term congressman blocked a bipartisan bill which would have prohibited surprise medical billing. Under the common practice, patients are hit with out-of-pocket medical costs following a surgery or other procedure, after being treated by doctors who aren't covered by their insurance—unbeknownst to the patient. 

President Donald Trump was expected to sign the bill, put forward by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), last year. But Neal stopped the legislation in its tracks by proposing his own measure which would have placed billing decisions in the hands of a third party. 

The ad suggests that Neal's decision was likely made for the benefit of the private equity firm Blackstone, which—with $48,600 donated from employees—is Neal's biggest contributor this election cycle. Blackstone owns TeamHealth, a physician practice which sent thousands of surprise bills to patients in 2017.

"Neal protected Blackstone's profits by killing a bill that would have saved patients money," the ad's narrator says. "Now Blackstone is Richie Neal's top contributor—and one of Donald Trump's too."

Watch the ad below:

"Corporate power is corrupting democracy and Richie Neal is part of the problem," the ad continues. 

According to a study published in February in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in five Americans with health insurance reported that they had received a surprise medical bill after surgery or another procedure. The bills often demand payment to anesthesiologists or surgical assistants and the average bill was for more than $2,000.

The ad is set to air in western Massachusetts for the rest of July ahead of Neal's Sept. 1 primary in which he faces 30-year-old Holyoke, Massachusetts Mayor Alex Morse.  Morse has been endorsed by progressive groups including Justice Democrats, the Sunrise Movement, and Indivisible.   

Morse's campaign is not connected to Fight Corporate Monopolies' ad, but he has focused heavily on surprise medical billing as well as Neal's refusal to use his power as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee to obtain Trump's state tax returns.

Intercept journalist Ryan Grim wrote that the ad by Fight Corporate Monopolies, the political nonprofit arm of the American Economic Liberties Project, will likely catch Democratic leaders in Congress off guard. As a 501(c)4, the group is not required to disclose its donors as long as it doesn't coordinate with a candidate.

"This amount of money coming from nowhere, undisclosed, is going to freak Democratic incumbents out," Grim tweeted.

"All of a sudden taking corporate money and crafting policy to benefit monopolies can now get you in trouble back home," Grim added.

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