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

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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.

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