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WASHINGTON — At a waterfront concert in one of this city’s swankiest neighborhoods, rappers Busta Rhymes and Fat Joe interspersed their hits about love, wealth, and wild parties with mini-lectures about hospitals’ high prices.

It was a nostalgia-fueled rager — but it was also a not-so-subtle effort by a billionaire to convince Congress and other policymakers to crack down on the commanding sway of the hospital industry.


“In health care, it’s your right to know the prices,” Fat Joe half-shouted to a sea of health policy staffers on a recent spring evening. The crowd, ushered in ahead of the rap royalty on a red carpet, wore wristbands that resembled hospital bracelets; many clutched custom cocktail cups that explained the wide variation in what patients pay for a brain MRI.

The strategy seemed to work. Just three weeks later, a prominent House health care committee held a hearing with a strikingly similar title: “Health Care Price Transparency: A Patient’s Right to Know.” The committee’s chairman, Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), met with Fat Joe before the session.

The extravagant party, which drew lawmakers from both parties, a Cabinet secretary, congressional staff, health care industry players, and journalists, was the brainchild of Cynthia Fisher, a wealthy entrepreneur and political donor. She’s married to Jim Koch, the billionaire founder and chairman of the brewer of Samuel Adams beer. She recruited Fat Joe to the cause — as well as NASCAR great Richard Petty and actress Susan Sarandon.

Fisher is one of a small club of wealthy philanthropists using unorthodox tactics — and piles of cash and connections — to mount a campaign to rein in hospital prices. They’re buying Super Bowl ad spots, bringing celebrities to Capitol Hill, bankrolling research at reputable institutions, and financing small advocacy groups across the country. She’s joined by Laura and John Arnold, whose fortune came from John’s work as an energy trader at Enron and as a hedge fund manager, and Gary and Mary West, who founded a telecommunications giant.

“In Washington, it’s about the self-interest of the big industry of health care at the table… and everybody who’s profiting off of the misfortune of a patient. This is philanthropic,” Fisher said in an interview. “This is about being able to bring the voice of the people to Washington.”

Already, their priorities are gaining some momentum on Capitol Hill. So far this year, key committees in the House of Representatives have held half a dozen hearings examining the community benefits nonprofit hospitals provide, interrogating hospital markets, and considering aggressive legislation that would force hospitals to share their prices and change how they get paid by Medicare.

The hospital industry has long been a lobbying powerhouse in Washington. Not only are hospitals willing to spend mightily on their advocacy, but their altruistic, care-giving reputations, coupled with their presence in nearly every congressional district in the country, have earned them the favor of most politicians.

But now, hospitals are worried the onslaught of the billionaires’ parallel campaigns could threaten their bottom lines only two years after they were the health care system’s frontline defense against the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Because of their unlimited pocketbook and vast resources, they have flooded the field,” said Stacey Hughes, who runs the American Hospital Association’s multimillion-dollar lobbying operation.

“Hospitals were clearly not ready for this level of sophistication in an advocacy campaign,” said Paul Lee, a hospital lobbyist who has worked on K Street for 35 years. “And honestly, they’re still not ready.”

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