Central Health, Ascesion, Travis County are suing each other over health care

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Central Health announced Tuesday it is suing Ascension Texas health care company, alleging Ascension “failed to meet its contractual obligations” to provide health care services to low-income residents in Travis County. In response, Ascesion announced its lawsuit against Central Health on Tuesday afternoon.

Central Health began its contractual relationship with Ascension in 2004, according to a Central Health release. In 2013, Ascension committed to continuing to provide minimum “current levels of health care services” that include both hospital and specialty care. The contract extension applies to patients enrolled in Central Health’s Medical Access (MAP) program or health insurance for uninsured Travis County residents from low-income families.

Central Health officials have reported a 21% drop in patient numbers between 2013 and 2022, a drop of 8,000 patients. Those numbers came from Ascension’s own data collection, officials said Tuesday. In a response Tuesday afternoon, Ascension disputed the use of those numbers in Central Health’s lawsuit.

“We don’t have a choice,” said Mike Geeslin, president and CEO of Central Health. “Ascension’s continued failures to meet its contractual obligations left Central Health with no choice but to file a lawsuit to hold Ascension accountable for failing to provide adequate, equitable health care services to low-income people in Travis County. Their actions caused real harm to the people we serve.”

In a statement from Ascension on Tuesday, officials said Ascension has filed its lawsuit against Central Health, adding that it “seeks to address the over-enrollment and underfunding of Central Health’s Medical Access Program (MAP), the county’s indigent health care program.” The partnership is designed to ensure equal access to care for Tavis County’s economically vulnerable residents.

Ascension Seton sought a good faith solution to Central Health’s continued refusal to support the growing demand for MAP services, but was forced to seek legal recourse after Central Health refused to engage in further good faith discussions and negotiations. Central Health’s taxpayer-funded lawsuit focuses on the wrong numbers. The data clearly demonstrate the success of the MAP program—through improved clinical outcomes and better continuity of care. Central Health repeatedly cites the 10-year agreement in its lawsuit, but completely ignores the 23 agreements it has ratified since then, which detail key numbers for specialty treatment appointments.

Rise Seton lawsuit filed against Central Health

Ascension’s lawsuit against Central Health

In the lawsuit filed Tuesday, Ascension alleged that Central Health both “misrepresented Ascension’s agreement with Seton and used distorted numbers to inaccurately represent the growth of the MPA program.” Ascension’s lawsuit alleges that Central Health “refuses to provide funding to care for additional patients” by over-recruiting patients into the health care program.

“Despite Central Health’s continued refusal to support the growing demand for MAP services and disregard for the existing MAP membership agreement, Ascension has worked diligently to continue providing critical health care services to the residents of Seton Travis County,” said Andy Davis, President and CEO, Ascension Texas, in the release. “Even with today’s developments, we will continue to put patient care first, consistent with our mission of providing quality care to all. Unfortunately, Central Health’s wrongful actions have forced us to take this legal action to ensure that Central Health meets its obligations to the community it was created to serve.

In a press release issued Tuesday, Ascension claimed that Central Health’s resources have grown significantly over five years despite “unmet needs” in patient populations. Ascension cited Central Health’s “significant new administrative costs” in its release, including the new headquarters, at a cost of $63 million.

Ascension officials added that MAP will continue to support its patients throughout the trial.

Central Health claims against the Rise

The claim of Central Health claims that the level of health services provided in both general and specialty areas has decreased. The lawsuit alleges that Ascension breached its contract with Central Health in the following ways:

  • Failure to provide “coordinated health care services to low-income Travis County residents,” including both general and specialty care
  • Failure to provide healthcare services to MAP patients, Charity Care patients “without discrimination”.
  • “Misbilling” Charity Care patients for health services
  • Failing to submit mandatory reports that Central Health should “monitor Ascension’s compliance with performance standards on behalf of Travis County residents”

In a press release Tuesday afternoon, Geeslin said federal funds are being used to reimburse Rise as part of a contract settlement. Central Health’s budget includes more than $300 million annually to cover specialty and general care services provided through Central Health’s partnerships with various agencies, including Ascension.

When asked whether Ascension should seek more funding from Central Health, Casey Dobson — an attorney with Scott Douglass & McConnico representing Central Health — declined to answer the question, citing the active litigation.

As part of the lawsuit, Central Health is seeking termination of its contractual agreements with Ascension, as well as an option to purchase Dell Seton Medical Center. According to the release, Ascension “has been approved to merge with the Dell School of Medicine, supported by Central Health at The University of Texas at Austin,” as part of the creation of Dell Seton Medical Center.

As for the option to buy Dell Seton Medical Center, Dobson said Tuesday that the option was included in a 2013 contractual agreement between the two entities.

“It was created specifically as a safety valve of last resort for this situation, where Central Health could buy the hospital if Ascension didn’t match their deal,” Dobson said. “And Ascension, we argued, was no match for their bargain.”

Officials said Tuesday that the trial may be slow, but added that frontline workers who deal with patients on a daily basis have shown great care and believe they will continue to do so through the legal process.

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