Las Vegas Sun Examines Lawsuits Filed Against For-Profit Hospitals Over Billing Practices
The Las Vegas Sun on Monday looked at a recent series of lawsuits filed against for-profit hospital systems HCA, Universal Health Services and Health Management Associates over their billing practices for uninsured patients (Swafford, Las Vegas Sun, 8/9). Last week, Alabama attorney Archie Lamb, who spearheaded a racketeering class-action lawsuit against the nation's HMOs, filed separate lawsuits against the three chains alleging that they generated hundreds of millions of dollars in profits by charging uninsured patients "inflated rates."
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 (California Healthline, 8/6).
Mike Tymczyn, spokesperson for UHS' operations in Las Vegas, said that the company has "not been served a complaint and has not had the opportunity to review the allegations with counsel." He added, however, that UHS "believes that its hospitals are in compliance with all applicable laws relating to billing to and collection from their patients."
According to the Sun, laws in Nevada require that hospitals provide 30% discounts to uninsured patients, but Lamb alleges that those discounts are not being offered.
HCA spokesperson Jeff Prescott said that the system will begin to offer a discount policy for uninsured patients that will be similar to Medicare or managed care charges. He added that the lawsuits will not solve the problem of 44 million U.S. residents who lack health insurance.
K.B. Forbes, executive director of Consejo de Latinos Unidos, a national advocacy group, said that hospitals "are making substantial profit off of the uninsured," adding, "That's how they make their books" (Las Vegas Sun, 8/9).