Attorney Files Lawsuits Against Three For-Profit Hospital Chains Over Charges to Uninsured Patients
Alabama attorney Archie Lamb, who spearheaded a lengthy racketeering class-action lawsuit against the nation's HMOs, on Thursday filed separate lawsuits against for-profit hospital chains HCA, Universal Health Services and Health Management Associates, alleging that they generated "hundreds of millions of dollars in profits" by charging uninsured patients "inflated rates," the Wall Street Journal reports. The suits, which seek to represent all patients who have received treatment since 1994 at the chains' 300 combined hospitals and psychiatric facilities, say the hospital operators violated states' unfair-trade-practice laws by charging uninsured patients three to four times more than the amounts that commercial insurers and Medicare paid for the same services. The suits against HCA and UHS were filed in district court in Clark County, Nev., and the suit against HMA was filed in 11th Judicial Circuit Court in Miami. Lamb said he chose to file the suits in those states because of their strong consumer-protection laws.
Jeff Prescott, a spokesperson for Tennessee-based HCA, said the lawsuits ignore the real problem in the United States -- that about 43 million U.S. residents are uninsured. He said that HCA plans to restructure its discounted-care program this fall so that uninsured patients are charged the same amount as commercial insurers, but he added that even at a discounted price, uninsured patients "are still going to be liable for the bill." John Merriwether, vice president for financial relations at Florida-based HMA, defended the company's billing and collection practices as "appropriate and reasonable" and said the health system provides hundreds of millions of dollars in charity care. He added, "We plan to vigorously defend the company against these allegations." Officials for Pennsylvania-based UHS said they had not seen the suit and declined to comment (Davies, Wall Street Journal, 8/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.