A legendary lawyer sued hospitals for price-gouging their patients. And got his butt handed to him.

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In 2003, a couple guys in the tiny city of Albany, GA wanted to expand their medical practice, but the local hospital stood in the way. The beef that ensued was wild, involving anonymous faxes, ex-FBI agents turned thugs, and a legendary attorney looking for his next big trophy.  

The lawyer was Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, famous for taking on big tobacco in the ’90s,and winning. Recruited by those two guys in Georgia, he launched a series of ill-fated national lawsuits against non-profit hospitals. The goal? Get non-profit , “charity” , hospitals to actually provide charity care instead of price-gouging low-income patients, and chasing them hard for payment, sometimes suing them. 

If you’ve been listening to this show, you know Scruggs didn’t exactly score total victory,some hospitals kept behaving shamefully. Actually, he got his butt handed to him.

However, he did help start some important changes.

For instance: We’ve been following the work of Jared Walker, who went super-viral on TikTok, spreading the word that non-profit hospitals are legally obligated to provide charity care. That obligation didn’t exist when Scruggs launched those lawsuits.

For the next few episodes we’ll tell some of the stories about how that change happened,it’s a wild ride, Scruggs wasn’t the only player (or the most effective), and how folks today are pushing that work forward. 

Next stop: The White House. It’s gonna be fun. 

You can read a transcript for this episode here

Big thanks to Kindling Group for allowing us to use audio from their documentary Do No Harm. You can learn more about their work at kindlinggroup.org.

Looking for a way to help? Researchers at the Innovation for Justice program at the University of Arizona are looking at hospitals’ debt collection practices, and how laws or regulations could do a better job protecting people. They’re looking to talk to some people who have been sued over medical bills. If that’s you, or someone you know, here’s a link to get in touch: bit.ly/talkmeddebt. It’s a 30-minute interview. They’re not gonna release your name or anything to ANYBODY, it’s all anonymous. (And there might be a gift card in it for you.)

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