While healthcare industry lobbying dipped in the second quarter of 2020, private equity-backed physician staffing firms beefed up their work on Capitol Hill.
Envision Healthcare and TeamHealth were the two largest backers of a dark-money group that blanketed airwaves with ads opposing benchmarking policies to protect patients from surprise medical bills. Despite cutting physicians' hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both increased their lobbying spending last quarter.
Envision Healthcare, a physician staffing firm owned by private-equity giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., was reportedly contemplating filing bankruptcy in April as volumes dropped. Envision spent $400,000 on lobbying in the second quarter of 2020, according to federal filings. That's a 264% increase from the first quarter of 2020, and a 400% increase from the same time period last year.
TeamHealth, which is owned by the private-equity firm Blackstone Group, also spent $400,000 on lobbying in the second quarter of 2020, which is a 14% increase from the first quarter of 2020 and a 1,233% increase compared with the same period in 2019.
Both Envision and TeamHealth declined to comment on their lobbying expenditures.
Insurers, which are on the other side of staffing firms' balance billing fight, generally reduced their lobbying spending this quarter. America's Health Insurance Plans, which represents insurers, spent $2.3 million in the second quarter of 2020. But that's a 38% decrease from the first quarter of 2020 and roughly the same as AHIP spent in the same period in 2019.
Broad legislation to end surprise medical bills has loomed over COVID-19 relief negotiations, but lawmakers have left out legislation providers oppose from several major relief packages. Now, Congress is negotiating what will likely be the last major legislative package before the 2020 election, and it appears unlikely any sweeping fix will be included.
Across much of the rest of the healthcare industry, lobbying spending fell in the second quarter. The drop was especially pronounced among healthcare associations, many of which have taken revenue hits as in-person events and conferences have been canceled.
American Society of Association Executives Director of Public Policy Chris Vest said the general decline in associations' revenue certainly could be related to decreased advocacy spending.
Vest said he couldn't make a direct connection, but the downward trend in association lobbying spending "totally tracks and makes sense with revenue challenges that associations are seeing across the board."
ASAE is pushing for trade associations to be made eligible for forgivable small-business loans under the Paycheck Protection Program.
Though large insurers have been largely insulated COVID-19's financial turmoil, many of them decreased their lobbying spending this quarter. The exception was Humana, which increased its spending nearly 200% in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the first.
Lobbying has also looked much different since March, as lobbyists have had restricted access to the Capitol. A spokesperson for the U.S. Capitol Police said lobbyists are allowed to be escorted into the Capitol building if they have an official appointment, but offices have discretion about their appointment policies.
The disclosure figures in this article are current through Tuesday morning. Second quarter reports were due Monday, but some reports are filed late.