A Tennessee-based firm that runs emergency rooms around the nation says it will stop suing patients who can’t pay. The company also is pledging to give more discounts for the uninsured.
After repeated questions on the topic, TeamHealth sent out a company-wide memo Nov. 21, stating that it would no longer take patients to court. The company is based in Knoxville with corporate offices in Nashville.
“Effective Dec. 1, 2019, we are implementing discount policies for our uninsured population to reduce the cost of care by as much 90 percent, and up to 100 when necessary,” TeamHealth CEO Leif Murphy wrote. “We will proactively include eligibility criteria in our invoices to help promote participation rather than force patients to seek assistance. TeamHealth will not take any patient to court for unpaid balances.”
The change comes after negative publicity about aggressive billing practice at hospitals, some of which — like Memphis’s Methodist LeBonheur — were recently documented by ProPublica. Reporting from the MLK50 project in Memphis showed that the bills sometimes come not from the hospitals but by staffing firms like TeamHealth.
TeamHealth, for its part, blames insurance companies who have “increasingly refused to pay the full cost of medical care,” instead raising deductibles and co-pays beyond what even insured patients can afford. The company sees the issue as part of a larger debate about out-of-network medical bills.
Health economist Sayeh Nikpay at Vanderbilt University says lawsuits over medical bills have become a political liability.
“I think people are getting pretty angry, and it’s not just marginalized groups that maybe don’t have a lot of political power.”
It’s unclear whether the company will continue seeking judgments already in progress, though the November letter says TeamHealth will direct its “third-party provider not to further pursue any pending cases.” That could impact thousands of patients across Tennessee. In Shelby County alone, a TeamHealth subsidiary has filed more than 4,800 lawsuits since 2017.