Have you ever heard of ‘surprise billing’? Here is the scenario: You are sick and need to go to the emergency room, but it’s okay! Your hospital takes your health insurance.
Somehow, months later, you receive a giant bill. It turns out that while the hospital itself takes your insurance, the doctors, aka the ‘independent contractors’ who operated on you, didn’t.
In fact, all those doctors who treated you were part of separate Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), glued together by private equity firms. Nobody told you, but when you went to the ER, you were going to not be treated by hospital employees but by independent corporate doctors who negotiated fees for services drastically higher than your insurance and that they would be billing you, and not your insurance, directly.
This is called surprise billing.
Who could have thought such an inhumane and bizarre system up? That would, of course, be KKR. As a firm that specializes in buying out businesses, firing all but a select group of senior executives, looting what can be looted, and then reselling the same hollow product, surprise billing is very on brand for KKR. The goal of these private-equity owned LLCs is no longer to provide the best medical care, or to allow increased autonomy to healthcare professionals. Instead the goal, like everything to do with private equity companies, is about squeezing the most money out of a business, or in this case, a medical practice, while investing as little as possible.
About ⅓ of hospitals in the US are staffed by doctors who work for LLCs owned by major private equity firms. In 2018, KKR purchased Envision Health, which employs about 70,000 people in the healthcare field nationwide. Since purchasing Envision Health, KKR quickly moved emergency room staff out of hospitals, and into KKR-owned LLCs, rapidly growing the surprise billing market. As of early 2021, an estimated 1 in 5 people who go into the ER receive a surprise bill.
In early July, the Biden administration banned surprise billing but not with KKR’s cooperation. For years, KKR has been pouring money into ‘Doctor Patient Unity’, an astroturf political action committee (PAC) that spent over 13 million dollars to block anti surprise billing legislation.
Even though the practice of surprise billing is now illegal, you just know that KKR is looking for other ways to squeeze money out of people. KKR has recently been spending money all over town, buying up all sorts of healthcare related businesses including California Medical insurer integrated Specialty Coverages and life insurance giant Global Atlantic Financial Group.
KKR’s moving deeper in healthcare is terrifying. It isn’t a surprise that the corporation backing the Coastal GasLink pipeline and destroying Wet’suwet’en livelihoods is also compromising healthcare. KKR’s greed is bottomless and their murderous, profit-seeking constellation of businesses must be exposed and shut down.