Despite an attempt by Swedish to have the class action dismissed, the judge reading the case recently ruled that it should proceed, and that there may be several thousand class members.
The class action alleges that SHS, doing business as SMC, engages in a pattern and practice of charging unfair, unreasonable and grossly inflated prices for Emergency Room (ER) care provided to uninsured patients.
The lawsuit states that mandatory reporting of hospital financial data required by various governmental entities confirm that SMC has, year after year, charged its uninsured emergency care patients about three times the average reimbursement amounts compared with other patients for the exact same care. This occurs even though both sets of patients receive the exact same treatment and services and are required to sign the exact same contract and financial liability provisions.
Further, patients are not given payment rates prior to being provided treatment and services at the SMC. At the heart of the lawsuit is SMC’s contract which states that it holds each emergency care patient financially liable for the “charges not paid by insurance.” However, SMC fails to define the “charges” in the context of the contract because there is no single, uniform set of charges it applies to all patients, insured and uninsured.
The class consists of all people (or their guardians or representatives) who, a) from July 31, 2006 to the date of class certification (June 21, 2013), received medical treatment through a SHS ER in Washington, state, b) were not covered by insurance or government healthcare programs at the time of treatment; and c) did not receive a discount or waiver of their charges from SHS.
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More than 46 million Americans do not have health insurance. When these people are unable to pay outrageous emergency room overcharges, they can become harassed by collection agencies, have their credit ruined, or even wind up in bankruptcy court.
That said, approximately 1 million patients received refunds or hospital bill adjustments under class action settlements reached between the years 2006-2008. Hospitals paid back almost $1 billion to patients who were overcharged, mainly by providers of emergency medical care.