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Doctors group backed by private investors repeatedly sued its patients for payment

Having a major illness or watching a family member go through one is hard enough. It’s made worse when you are threatened with a lawsuit for failing to pay the big medical bill you received after treatment.

TeamHealth, an emergency room staffing firm, has filed thousands of lawsuits against patients in Memphis. ProPublica and MLK50 reported that 4,800 lawsuits have been filed in total since 2017.

This story combines two disturbing trends in health care: aggressive billing practices of private equity-backed health care companies, and providers who are taking their patients to court to collect their medical debts.

Physicians have historically avoided suing patients in large numbers, as ProPublica and MLK50 point out. When Blackstone Group, a private equity firm, acquired TeamHealth in 2017, things changed.

“There is this tension between being a health care provider and doing what’s best for their care … and being a profit-maximizing firm that aggressively goes after patients,” Brian Shearer, legal director of Justice Catalyst Law, said in the article.

TeamHealth initially defended its lawsuits but under greater media scrutiny reversed course, issuing a statement that it would no longer sue patients and would not pursue the lawsuits it already filed.

“Effective December 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 percent when necessary. We will proactively include eligibility criteria in our invoices to help promote participation rather than force patients to seek assistance,” TeamHealth president and chief executive officer Leif Murphy wrote in a letter to employees.

If you’ve received a surprise medical bill or believe you’ve been victim of unfair medical debt collection, share your story with Voices for Affordable Health.