‘An Arm and a Leg’: Meet the Mississippi Lawyer Who Helped Start the Fight for Charity Care

Can’t see the audio player? Click here to listen.

Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, famous for taking on Big Tobacco in the ’90s and winning, worked on a series of ill-fated national lawsuits against nonprofit hospitals. The goal? Get nonprofit — or “charity” — hospitals to actually provide charity care instead of price-gouging and dunning low-income patients. 

Scruggs didn’t exactly score a total victory — some hospitals kept behaving shamefully. And he lost big, eventually.

But he did help start important changes.

For instance: We’ve been following the work of Jared Walker, who went viral on TikTok, spreading the word that nonprofit 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, and Scruggs wasn’t the only player (or the most effective) — and how folks today are pushing that work forward. 

This episode relies on audio from The Kindling Group documentary “Do No Harm.”

And researchers with 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 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, and it is all anonymous.

Here’s a transcript of this episode.

“An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of KHN and Public Road Productions.

To keep in touch with “An Arm and a Leg,” subscribe to the newsletter. You can also follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. And if you’ve got stories to tell about the health care system, the producers would love to hear from you.

To hear all KHN podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to “An Arm and a Leg” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

USE OUR CONTENT

This story can be republished for free (details).

We encourage organizations to republish our content, free of charge. Here’s what we ask:

You must credit us as the original publisher, with a hyperlink to our khn.org site. If possible, please include the original author(s) and “Kaiser Health News” in the byline. Please preserve the hyperlinks in the story.

It’s important to note, not everything on khn.org is available for republishing. If a story is labeled “All Rights Reserved,” we cannot grant permission to republish that item.

Have questions? Let us know at [email protected]

Comments are closed.