From the Alaska Dispatch:
A group of doctors in Fairbanks has filed what could be a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Tanana Chiefs Conference Inc., a consortium of 42 Interior Alaska tribes.
Golden Heart Emergency Physicians, which provides emergency services at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, claims TCC has underpaid or refused to pay thousands of emergency room bills even though it takes in money from the Indian Health Service — as much as $30 million per year, according to the lawsuit — to pay for the health care needs of its constituents.
The payment disputes often leave TCC members to pay the emergency room tab at their own expense. If those patients can’t or don’t pay, Golden Heart is stuck with a situation in which it has provided services essentially for free, something it has no intention of doing. Since emergency rooms are required by law to treat patients who come to them in need of emergency care, they don’t turn anyone away. Patients are treated without consideration of where payment will come from.
According to Golden Heart, its physicians have provided medical care to thousands of TCC members with little or no payment in return, leaving TCC owing “a substantial sum.” The lawsuit does not offer a precise amount Golden Heart seeks from TCC — only that it wants to recover three times the amount due on each bill or $500, whichever is more, and that it believes punitive damages may also be appropriate.