Private equity-owned physicians group says it will stop suing patients over medical debt

Amid media scrutiny, a private equity-owned physicians group said it will no longer sue patients over unpaid medical debt and won't pursue lawsuits it has already filed, according to a report by MLK50 and ProPublica.

TeamHealth, a physician services organization based in Knoxville, Tenn., is owned by New York City-based private equity firm Blackstone. Blackstone closed its $6.1 billion acquisition of TeamHealth and its subsidiary Southeastern Emergency Physicians in February 2017.

Since 2017, Southeastern has filed more than 4,800 lawsuits against patients in Shelby County General Sessions Court in Tennessee, according to ProPublica and MLK50, which cite court records.

TeamHealth previously told the news organizations lawsuits were only filed against patients who had not attempted to pay.

But after ProPublica and MLK50 raised more questions, a TeamHealth spokesperson said: "It's difficult to ensure that only patients with a strong ability to pay are ultimately impacted, so we've decided to eliminate it."

The company said it has also implemented a new financial assistance policy. TeamHealth announced the change after MLK50 and ProPublica asked about policies that hindered access to charity care for low-income patients, according to the report.

A letter to employees from TeamHealth President and CEO Leif Murphy states: "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 [percent] when necessary. We will proactively include eligibility criteria in our invoices to help promote participation rather than force patients to seek assistance."

TeamHealth's actions come as hospital systems, including Memphis, Tenn.-based Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, have received media attention regarding their debt-collection practices. In September, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare wiped out medical debt of more than 6,500 patients after an investigation by MLK50 and ProPublica.

 

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