While you were preparing your Thanksgiving feast, ProPublica published a harrowingnew investigation about aggressive debt collection lawsuits from TeamHealth against low-income patients struggling to pay staggering bills. Since 2017, Southeastern Emergency Physicians, a subsidiary of TeamHealth, has filed more than 4,800 lawsuits against patients in Shelby County General Sessions Court. This revelation follows a New York Times investigation that identified TeamHealth as one of the main funders behind the dark-money group spending millions to derail congressional efforts to address surprise medical billing.

If you haven’t read ProPublica’s latest report, This Doctors Group Is Owned by a Private Equity Firm and Repeatedly Sued the Poor Until We Called Them, it is a must read.  Details from the investigation were highlighted today in Axios, and demonstrate why Congress needs to pass a benchmark solution and protect patients from sky-high medical bills.

Physician staffing firm has sued thousands of Tennessee patients for medical debt
By Caitlin Owens, Axios
Dec. 2, 2019

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 send patients surprise medical bills more often than other specialties, especially physicians employed by TeamHealth.
  • 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.

To read more about how private equity firms drive surprise medical billing, click here