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Attorney Files ER Overcharges Class-Action Lawsuit

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Los Angeles, CAAttorney Barry Kramer has filed a class-action claim on behalf of uninsured people who were overcharged emergency room (ER) fees by the Swedish Medical Center. “We have filed a class action in the state of Washington. The class has been certified and individuals affected by ER overcharges will soon receive notice,” says Kramer.

Kramer says that the litigation seeks to get refunds and outstanding account balances reduced for class members, i.e., people who were uninsured and billed outrageous emergency room charges. There has also been a recent favorable ruling on a similar class action in the general court of justice in the state of North Carolina, and there have also been other similar actions filed in South Carolina, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and various other states as well. Basically, the class actions allege that uninsured emergency care patients are the victims of hospital overcharging.

How can emergency room patients be held hostage by a hospital?

Kramer explains that the problem stems from hospitals having patients sign an agreement, typically when they arrive at the emergency room under some sort of medical duress, which says nothing about the patient’s costs for treatment.

“An emergency room patient is typically given a consent agreement of some type which they are required to sign,” Kramer says. “This agreement not only provides consent for treatment, but typically contains a vague financial liability provision stating that the patient is responsible for the hospital’s charges. The problem is that the patients don’t see any list of these charges, and for the most part they are given no information whatsoever regarding charges or the fact that they will be charged far more than other patients for the same treatment. Nor does the patient have the ability to get pricing information or even find out what the charges will be based upon. In other words, the patient has no way of knowing or predicting that they will get a ridiculous and outrageous bill after discharge.”

For the uninsured, emergency room charges can run anywhere from three to 10 times more than the amount billed to other groups of patients. “These excessive charges are based on an artificially inflated pricing schedule that is literally not paid by anyone,” adds Kramer.

Hospitals like to point out that many uninsured people don’t pay anything on their bill, which often occurs because many patients, including those who may be homeless or in dire poverty, show up in ER as uninsured patients. But ER patients who have some assets or a good job can become caught in a system that is blatantly unfair, and emergency charges can end up ruining their credit rating and sometimes even their lives.

“Nobody finds out the cost of their ER visit until sometime after their discharge, when they get the bill in the mail,” says Kramer. “The problem is compounded because the government requires the ER to treat everyone regardless of their financial condition, but doesn’t require hospitals to explain their pricing methods, or let uninsured patients know they will be subject to rates that virtually nobody pays. Furthermore, a program that was established in order to help the uninsured by guaranteeing the availability to obtain emergency care fails to control the amounts that hospitals charge to uninsured patients.

“The hospital, in turn, uses these outrageous billed amounts as a basis to demand higher reimbursement rates from government health plans (i.e., Medicare and Medicaid) and insurance companies. The uninsured patient is like a pawn in this corrupt system; stuck in a vicious cycle revolving around doctors, the hospital and insurance companies.”

Kramer explains that medical teams are afraid to forgo a test or treatment lest they wind up with a medical malpractice lawsuit. And insurance companies’ rates have spiraled out of control because of emergency room overcharges. No wonder so many patients cannot afford health insurance coverage. And another grave issue: If patients have already been hit with emergency room overcharges, they might be reluctant to seek medical help again.

The average hospital stay in the developed world costs $6,222. In the US, the average hospital stay (five days) costs $18,142. That extra $12,000 isn’t because of extra care or expensive technology: it is simply because American hospitals charge more than the rest of the world. And emergency room charges for uninsured patients are vastly higher still.

“Those of us with health insurance are also paying a hidden and growing tax for those without it - about $1,000 per year that pays for somebody else’s emergency room and charitable care,” said President Obama in 2009, making a case for his healthcare law.

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READER COMMENTS

Posted by

on
My comment does not pertain to ER charges but to a "normal" office visit. My unemployed 44 year old son needed a prescription written by my family physician who is the only doctor I know locally. My son has taken the two drugs for several years--one for high blood pressure and the other for Leiden V. Our doctor is on the staff of Sanford Health in Sioux Falls. We paid $75 up front before our son was seen. The doctor saw him for 10 minutes. Since my previous visits with the doctor were for $71, I thought we had probably paid enough. We got a bill from Sanford last week for $245! We were shocked. How could this be? I confronted the folks in Sanford's business office and one of their clerks informed me the extra was for office space (an extra add-on fee). How come? This has never been discussed or revealed in any prior discussions. We plan to look for an unaffilliated physician to provide our basic medical care.

Posted by

on
On 02/29/2014 I went to the ER at Zypherhills Hospital, Zypherhills, FLorida. While in intense abdominal pain and throwing up. I would later be told it was probably a kidney stone. What disturbes me is I was never advised of the cost of treatment even though I asked several times. I could either sign the "consent" form or leave. I advised the administration I had no insurance and recently lost my job when the company sold to foreign investors. I was advised I would be treated as a charity case and given a discounted rate. I underwent a MRI, which indicated nothing. The pain subsided and then quit. The Doctor said I must have passed the stone (but I never went to the restroom).... Who knows what it was. I saw the Doctor for about 5 minutes initially and the same for the diagnosis after all test were concluded and "read". I was reaaleased. Overall time 1hour, 42minnutes.

Upon exiting I was stoped by a hospital debt collector asking if there was anything I could 'pay on [my] bill tonight?" I asked her what it was and she said $300.00. I did have that amount in the bank so I paid it in full. I asked and was told there would be "nothing else to pay."

Several weeks later I started receiving additional bills. All toll they were $11,313.48. The hospital billed an additional $9,882.48 and so called "contractors" billed an additional $1,431.00.

I called the hospital immediately and was informed the $300 was provisional and subject to change. As they could not "validate" an "income", they were charging the full amount.

I disputed the action in writing. Then I started getting calls and letters from debt collectors. I also disputed their claims. I now see that the alleged "debt" is on my credit report causing my points to fall from 786 to 643 (poor).

Now I have to get an attorney to stop the actions. What will that cost? I did not knowing, willingly or intentionally "agree" to pay any outrageious amount the hospital and contractors wanted to charge. $11,313.48 is outrageious!

I will pay a "reasonable" amount. But I will not be extorted or forced to morgage or sell my property to satisfy this insane claim of debt.

The practice of hospitals charging outregeious amounts for treetment just to loot the insurance companies, or force "negotiations" for a lower rate.....which is still outrageious HAS TO STOP! Our insurance rates are high because of the hospital's billing practices.

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