CoxHealth, CEO sued over tweets related to 'COVID' promo code

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A Missouri woman is suing CoxHealth and its president and CEO, Steven Edwards, over his tweets and its 'COVID' promo code, which gave uninsured patients complimentary telehealth visits, according to a July 11 report by the Springfield News-Leader.

Samantha Cherry took her youngest son to the Springfield, Mo.-based health system with ear pain. When she tried to sign up for a telehealth visit she saw that the promo code "COVID" would discount the $30 visit to free. Ms. Cherry said the virtual visit sign-up process was continuously promoting the promo code, but she would rather pay the $30 fee than have her son associated with COVID-19.

A CoxHealth employee called Ms.Cherry, trying to get her to use promo code, she alleged, leading to an argument, after which Ms. Cherry told the newspaper that she hung up the phone. She went to Facebook and posted: "COVID WARNING!!!" The post said the virtual visit was weird and that she did not want to associate her son with the virus.

Mr. Edwards tweeted Aug. 2: "In March, Cox decided to provide free COVID telemedicine to address the uninsured and reduce exposure risk. In the software, a coupon code had to be chosen instead of insurance field, “COVID.” It was a public service. I regret anyone would think it is part of a conspiracy theory."

He also shared uncensored screenshots of Ms. Cherry's Facebook post.

Ms. Cherry said the tweets made by Mr. Edwards were libelous, defamatory, violated the medical privacy of her son and damaged her business reputation, according to court documents. Ms. Cherry is seeking damages, attorney and court fees and wants tweets that reference her to be taken down, according to court documents.

Mr. Edwards has increased his use of Twitter during the pandemic. On July 1, he tweeted "If you are making wildly disparaging comments about the vaccine, and have no public health expertise, you may be responsible for someone’s death. Shut up."

In a statement shared with Becker's, Kaitlyn McConnell, a spokesperson for the health system, said that Mr. Edwards' use of social media has not been to stigmatize anyone in the community, but to keep the community informed on COVID-19-related news. To steer patients from the emergency room, the health system opened up complimentary virtual visits for uninsured patients.

 "Our marketing team recommended “COVID” to keep it simple for everyone," Ms. McConnell said. "Although this was used by all patients, it was simply a coupon code and had nothing to do with diagnosis or how we reported COVID case numbers."

She continued: "Ms. Cherry’s statement on Facebook worried us that members of the community were wrongly suspicious that we were using the term COVID to falsely categorize patients. We feared this could cause people to skip the telemedicine and dedicated testing process, and instead go to the emergency room, placing both our staff and patients at risk. In light of these concerns, Steve shared Ms. Cherry’s Facebook post, alongside an earlier post he had made, to clarify CoxHealth’s testing procedures. Merely reposting her post is not a privacy violation."

"We strongly believe this case lacks merit, and we will trust and rely upon our judicial process to resolve this matter," Ms. McConnell said. "It is crucial that our time and energy are devoted to preparing to serve patients how and when they need us, especially as we see another wave of COVID overwhelming our region. We will not allow this lawsuit to distract us from our mission to serve our community."

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