Jury: UnitedHealth must pay TeamHealth $60M in damages in Nevada case

A Nevada jury has awarded TeamHealth $60 million in punitive damages as part of an ongoing legal spat between the physician staffing firm and health insurance giant UnitedHealthcare.

A jury ruled late last month that the insurer underpaid emergency physicians at three TeamHealth affiliates in the state and at the time awarded $2.65 million in compensatory damages. The jury reached a decision after two days of deliberation and nearly three weeks of testimony.

Nine additional, similar lawsuits are pending in other states, and TeamHealth is expecting the Nevada results to drive momentum in those other cases.

“Today’s ruling that United must pay $60 million in punitive damages sets a critical precedent that large health insurers can’t underpay frontline doctors for lifesaving care,” said TeamHealth President and CEO Leif Murphy in a statement. “We look forward to continuing the fight against United in nine future cases that will be decided on the same set of facts.”

RELATED: Moody's: The industrywide implications of UnitedHealth's spat with TeamHealth

UnitedHealthcare plans to appeal the ruling, arguing that the jury did not hear critical evidence in the case. For example, the jury did not hear that TeamHealth terminated contracts with UHC in the state to use litigation and potential balance billing to drive up reimbursement rates, the insurer said.

“Everyone agrees health care costs too much, and today’s decision only adds to the problem," a UnitedHealthcare spokesperson told Fierce Healthcare. "We will be appealing this decision immediately in order to protect our customers and members from private equity-backed physician staffing companies who demand egregious and anticompetitive rates for their services and drive up the cost of care for everyone.”

The insurer also added that it believes the No Surprises Act, which addresses surprise medical billing, will largely eliminate lawsuits like TeamHealth's.

UnitedHealthcare also filed suit against TeamHealth in October, alleging it upcoded for services to the tune of $100 million. The insurer claims TeamHealth purposefully upcoded for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of claims.