Doctors Sue Louisiana for $100M in Unpaid Claims After Katrina
Nearly 400 Louisiana physicians at a hospital outside of New Orleans on Monday sued the state for $100 million, saying they never were reimbursed for care they provided at no cost to low-income and uninsured patients after Hurricane Katrina, the Los Angeles Times reports (Simmons, Los Angeles Times, 5/1).
The lawsuit, filed by 381 physicians at West Jefferson Medical Center, claims that Louisiana failed to reimburse them for treating indigent patients since the state-funded Charity Hospital in New Orleans closed on Aug. 29, 2005, following Hurricane Katrina (Kunzelman, AP/Houston Chronicle, 4/30). According to the suit, the state has "inappropriately shifted [its] responsibilities" onto private physicians while "depriving" doctors of compensation (Moran, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 4/30).
The hospital is not a party in the lawsuit.
Barton Farris, medical director of the Jefferson Parish hospital's laboratory, said the state Department of Health and Hospitals allocated $120 million in 2005 to hospitals that care for low-income and uninsured patients, but no funding went to private practices that provided charity care (Kunzelman, AP/Houston Chronicle, 4/30).
Hospital records show that 30% of patients admitted to the West Jefferson emergency department after Katrina were low-income or uninsured. In addition, low-income or uninsured patients seeking care outside the ED accounted for 13% of hospital admissions, compared to 5.4% before the hurricane (Los Angeles Times, 5/1).
Farris said that some doctors, particularly young physicians, are leaving the area because of the increased workloads and it is making it difficult to recruit new doctors (AP/Houston Chronicle, 4/30).
Bob Johannessen, a spokesperson for the state health and hospitals department, said the agency had not seen the lawsuit but added that there was "no mechanism" to pay physicians for uncompensated care costs. He noted that the state receives federal funds to pay hospitals for charity care, but not doctors.
According to Johannessen, the federal government in March 2006 paid hospitals and doctors for uncompensated care provided from Aug. 24, 2005, to Jan. 31, 2006 -- $8 million of which went to doctors. He added that the state has asked several times for additional federal funds to compensate doctors, but none have been provided (Los Angeles Times, 5/1).