LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A six-person jury on Tuesday awarded a $9.4 million breach-of-contract verdict on behalf of Southeastern Emergency Physicians, LLC, a group of emergency room doctors and a subsidiary of TeamHealth Inc., finding that Centene Corporation and its insurance subsidiaries systematically tried to strip the doctors of most of their pay.
In one of the first in-person jury trials in Arkansas since the COVID-19 virus hit, the jury in U.S. District Judge Brian S. Miller’s court found that the defendants grossly underpaid and breached their contract with the emergency room doctors. The jury awarded $9.4 million in damages, with the final award expected to increase to $13 million with attorneys’ fees and interest.
“The Centene defendants ignored their written agreements and tried to cheat these hardworking emergency room doctors. They treated commercial insurance claims like Medicare payments, they tried to hide which company owed the money, they paid late. Their cavalier attitude toward these essential workers was abominable,” said John Zavitsanos, the lead attorney and a name partner with Houston-based AZA or Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C.
This lawsuit is one of many TeamHealth has filed against various insurers across the country to stop systematic underpayment of ER doctors by insurance companies that seek to keep the money for their own coffers. The legal team was hired only six days before this Arkansas trial. A similar Houston case is scheduled to be tried by Mr. Zavitsanos and his team in September.
TeamHealth is trying to level the playing field for these key doctors who support multiple communities but whose practice groups are being badly underpaid by several highly profitable insurance companies.
In the Arkansas contract signed in 2011, the Centene-controlled insurance company and health network agreed to pay the ER doctors 75 percent of the regular commercial insurance billing rates. But instead, the doctors were paid only 10 percent of the billing and were paid slowly at that. The jury also heard how Centene tried to obfuscate their ownership of the companies and the entities responsible for paying the doctors.
“Communities depend on their ER doctors, and insurance companies cheating them out of their livelihood is not only fraudulent, it’s dangerous,” said TeamHealth co-counsel Collin D. Kennedy of Frisco, Texas-based Hanshaw Kennedy Hafen, LLP.
TeamHealth is a physician-led, patient-focused company founded by doctors, for doctors. TeamHealth is represented in this lawsuit by Mr. Kennedy and AZA name partner Mr. Zavitsanos, AZA Of Counsel Kevin Leyendecker and AZA associate Michael Killingsworth. Their co-counsel are Judy Simmons Henry, Baxter D. Drennon and Michael A. Thompson of Wright Lindsey Jennings in Little Rock.
The case is Southeastern Emergency Physicians, LLC v. Arkansas Health & Wellness Health Plan, Inc.; Celtic Insurance Company d/b/a Arkansas Health & Wellness Insurance Company; Novasys Health, Inc., and Centene Corporation, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Case No. 4:17-cv-492-KGB.
AZA, or Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C., is a Houston-based law firm that is home to true courtroom lawyers with a formidable track record in complex commercial litigation, including energy, healthcare, intellectual property, and business dispute cases. AZA is recognized by Chambers USA 2020 among the best in Texas commercial law; by U.S. News – Best Lawyers’ Best Law Firms as one of the country’s best commercial litigation firms for eight years running; was named 2019 Litigation Department of the Year by Texas Lawyer; and was previously dubbed by Law360 a Texas Powerhouse law firm. National corporate counsel named AZA one of the country’s best in client service among law firms serving the Fortune 500 and 1000. Visit https://azalaw.com/.