A lawsuit seeking class-action status was filed against Sanford Health in July 2015 in Cass County District Court. Dustin Limberg, a former patient in the Sanford Medical Center emergency room, claims his ER bill is “grossly excessive, unfair and unconscionable for the services provided,” and that uninsured patients are charged a higher rate than those who are covered by health insurance.
In January, Limberg went to the ER room and signed a contract that puts him on the hook for all charges and services provided by the hospital. The lawsuit states that these charges are based on “chargemaster” rates, which is a price list of costs for services, from ambulance to aspirin.
The chargemaster price list, which can include thousands and thousands of entries, is typically unavailable to the public, unless you are checking rates in California. Regardless where you are, including South Dakota, the rates maintained by hospitals can be negotiated with public and private health insurers. And attorney Barry Kramer, who drafted Limberg’s complaint.
Limberg’s lawsuit claims that the chargemaster list isn’t included in the contract he signed and he didn’t receive any pricing information before receiving care in the ER to the tune of $2,062. Further, Limberg argues that government entities are allowed to negotiate lower rates and rates on the chargemaster list are “several times higher” for those who are uninsured.
Cindy Morrison, a Sanford vice president for marketing and public policy, and Paul Richard, president of Sanford Medical Center in Fargo and the health system’s former chief counsel, told inforum.com that the Sanford Medical Center billing and charging practices are consistent and follow both the law and federal regulations.
Morrison also told the Forum’s Editorial Board that Limberg’s lawsuit is almost identical to three cases - including one against Sioux Valley Hospital in Sioux Falls, now Sanford Health - that judges dismissed about 10 years ago on the grounds that they failed to make a valid legal claim. The dismissals were unanimously upheld by the South Dakota Supreme Court.
READ MORE EMERGENCY ROOM CHARGES LEGAL NEWS
Whatever it takes to keep emergency room costs down. Call it what you will, trolling has worked for attorney Kramer’s clients. For the past six or seven years, he has only worked on emergency room overcharges cases. Kramer has negotiated excessive charges for countless clients. He said that hospitals usually settle cases before they wind up in court.
Emergency Room overcharges class-action lawsuits are pending in at least four states, including California, New Jersey, West Virginia and Washington. And maybe South Dakota. Lawsuits similar to that of Limberg’s have achieved class-action status in courts in New Jersey, West Virginia and California.