Dec 2, 2019

Physician staffing firm has sued thousands of Tennessee patients for medical debt

Memphis skyline. Photo: Visions of America/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

An emergency room staffing firm owned by TeamHealth has filed thousands of lawsuits against patients in Memphis in the last few years, ProPublica and MLK50 report.

Why it matters ... This is a collision of two storylines: the aggressive billing practices of private equity-backed health care companies, and providers' decision to take patients to court to collect their medical debts.

  • Media reports have, until now, mostly focused on hospitals' lawsuits, but ProPublica and MLK50's reporting suggest the practice could be more widespread.

Between the lines: TeamHealth has already been in hot water for its role in surprise billing.

  • Emergency room physicians frequently send patients surprise medical bills, although TeamHealth doesn't do so, according to a spokesperson.
  • These doctors then have leverage to obtain higher in-network payment rates, making the practice lucrative.
  • The group is also one of the main funders of the dark-money group that has run millions in ads against what was Congress' leading solution to surprise medical bills.
  • The company was acquired by the Blackstone Group in 2017.

By the numbers: The Memphis subsidiary Southeastern Emergency Physicians has filed more than 4,800 lawsuits against patients in Shelby County General Sessions Court since 2017, per ProPublica and MLK50.

  • TeamHealth said last week, after receiving questions from reporters, that it will no longer sue patients and won't pursue the lawsuits it's already filed.

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Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say that TeamHealth no longer sends patients surprise medical bills, a spokesperson told Axios.

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The White House is unhappy with private equity's surprise medical billing ads

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The White House hasn't weighed in on how to resolve the debate over surprise medical bills, but Joe Grogan, head of the Domestic Policy Council, had some choice words about ads being run by private equity-backed groups:

What they're saying: "The advertisements that are targeting members on this and are being run by the private equity groups who are using the arbitrage on surprise medical billing should make every American and member want to puke," Grogan told Axios.

Go deeperArrowNov 27, 2019

TeamHealth sent thousands of surprise medical bills in 2017

Data: TeamHealth letter to senators; Note: Numbers don't include Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers; Chart: Axios Visuals

Physician staffing firm TeamHealth sent thousands of surprise medical bills to patients in 2017, a strategy used to obtain higher payment rates from insurers, according to a letter from the company sent to a group of senators in March, which was obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: These bills can be unaffordable for the small portion of TeamHealth's patients who receive them, and the subsequently high in-network rates raise premiums for everyone.

Go deeperArrowDec 5, 2019

Health care industry opposes Congress' new surprise medical bill legislation

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). Photo: Astrid Riecken/Getty Images

The health care industry is not very happy with Congress' latest proposal on surprise medical bills, which also includes other provisions designed to lower health costs.

Driving the news: The bill, championed by Sen. Lamar Alexander and Reps. Frank Pallone and Greg Walden, cracks down on industry behavior that is often profitable at patients' expense.

Go deeperArrowDec 10, 2019