Below is an excerpt from Open Secrets

Dueling industry groups to run surprise medical bills ads during Democratic presidential debate

As patients get slapped with unexpected pricey bills for medical services provided by out-of-network physicians, Congress is considering bipartisan legislation to ban the practice.

The bills are stalled, however, amid a tug of war between two vying forces: physician and hospital-backed groups and a secretive dark money organization launched multi-million dollar ad campaigns attacking insurers, while the well-financed insurance industry countered with its own lobbying and ad campaigns.

The fight stretches into Thursday night as two groups pour in tens of thousands to air head-to-head ads during the Democratic presidential debate.

Insurance groups are getting behind the Lower Health Care Costs Act, which would cap out-of-network pay rate at regional health providers’ standard. The bill was introduced by Senate Health Committee leaders Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) as a bipartisan effort.

The bill irked doctors and hospital-backed groups, who criticized the legislation for favoring the insurance industry. Instead they support a bill from Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) that would allow health providers and insurers to negotiate the rate through an independent dispute resolution.

Physicians for Fair Coverage, a nonprofit group made up of specialty physician companies, spent $65,000 to air its half-minute ad on a local ABC channel in Washington, D.C., during the debate. The group calls for an end to the “surprise insurance gap,” blaming the insurance industry for profiting from high-dollar medical bills and forcing physicians to leave the provider networks.

The organization is chaired by Sherif Zaafran, who’s also the vice chairman of physician group U.S. Anesthesia Partners, a physician-staffing firm that hires doctors and connects them with healthcare facilities.

The group also spent more than $100,000 on Facebook and Twitter ads telling members of Congress, “End surprise billing and don’t let insurers put profits over patients.”

Similarly, Doctor Patient Unity, a dark money group that launched a multi-million dollar ad campaign in July, is attacking the insurance industry for “record profits.” The group pressured constituents in key lawmakers’ districts through mailers and released ads targeting senators who face re-elections in 2020, such as Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Martha McSally (R-Ariz.).

Also pouring in $65,000 for 30 seconds in the nation’s Capitol during the Thursday night debate is Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing, a group backed by multiple insurance companies and groups such as the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans.

The group, which recently launched a second round of a multi-million dollar campaign, supports setting the reimbursement rate for out-of-network physicians based on the regional standard for in-network providers.