Public hospital district, Ascension Texas sue each other over care for low-income patients

Central Health — Travis County, Texas' public hospital district — has filed a lawsuit against Ascension Texas alleging Ascension "failed to meet contractual obligations" to provide services to low-income residents." Ascension responded by filing a lawsuit against Austin, Texas-based Central Health.

Central Health and Austin-based Ascension Seton have worked together under a safety net agreement since 2004, according to a Jan. 24 Central Health news release. The sides agreed to a new contract in 2013, but Central Health alleges that Ascension has failed to provide services at the agreed-upon 2013 levels. It alleges Ascension served approximately 21 percent fewer patients in 2022 than in 2013. 

Central Health said in the release that Ascension breached its contract in the following ways:

  • Failing to provide agreed-upon healthcare services to low-income Travis County residents, both overall and in relation to several specialty areas
  • Failing to provide healthcare services to Medical Access Program (MAP) patients and charity care patients on a nondiscriminatory basis
  • Improperly billing charity care patients for healthcare services
  • Not providing required reports that Central Health needs to monitor Ascension's compliance with performance standards

Central Health is seeking a judge to terminate its agreements with Ascension and trigger its option to purchase Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas in Austin.

Ascension Texas said in a news release shared with Becker's that Central Health has "misrepresented its agreement with Ascension Seton and used distorted numbers to inaccurately represent growth of the MPA program." It alleges that Central Health has "unilaterally over-enrolled individuals into the healthcare program while refusing to provide funding to support the care for these additional patients." 

"Ascension Seton had been seeking a good faith resolution to Central Health's continued refusal to support increased demand for MAP services but was forced to seek legal remedy after Central Health refused to engage in further good faith discussions and negotiations," Ascension said in the release. "Central Health’s taxpayer-funded lawsuit is focusing on the wrong numbers. The data clearly demonstrates the success of the MAP program — through improved clinical outcomes and a better continuum of care. Central Health repeatedly cites a 10-year-old agreement in their lawsuit, but completely ignores 23 agreements they have ratified since then that detail baseline numbers for appointments in specialty care."

Ascension said it will continue to support MAP patients amid the legal battle. 

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