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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
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Florida hospital charged exorbitant fees for scans, X-rays, lawsuit claims

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A pair of unrelated car wrecks in South Florida last year has resulted in what may be a far-reaching lawsuit filed in Tampa. The suit accuses a holding company that owns 80 hospitals across the state, including several in the Tampa area, of grossly overcharging for medical services.

According to the suit, JFK Medical Center and its owner, HCA Holdings, charged exorbitant fees for emergency room radiological services. The overcharges sapped the Personal Injury Protection coverage limits of the patients and left them with thousands of dollars of uncovered bills they had to pay out of their pockets, the suit says.

The four-count, 38-page lawsuit was filed in Hillsborough County Circuit Court and seeks class-action certification.

Theodore J. Leopold, a lawyer with the Palm Beach Gardens-based law firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll that filed the lawsuit, said HCA hospitals gouged patients with PIP coverage and the insurance companies that offer it.

“We estimate overcharges or up-charges can be from 400 to 700 percent,” he said. “And the patient has no money left over for the rest of their care.”

HCA’s local list of hospitals include Brandon Regional Hospital, Memorial Hospital and Town & Country Hospital, St. Petersburg General Hospital and Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point.

The lawsuit does not mention any medical facility except the JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, a few miles south of West Palm Beach. Attorneys filing the action say their clients, two women who were in unrelated traffic accidents in April and May 2013, were victims of “unreasonable, unconscionable and unlawful pricing and billing practices.”

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Florida motorists are required to carry a minimum of $10,000 PIP coverage, and hospitals are mandated to charge “a reasonable amount,” when billing insurance companies that offer the coverage.

“Florida HCA hospitals and emergency facilities,” the lawsuit says, “charge well in excess of the ‘reasonable amount’ for radiological services provided to PIP-covered patients.”

The overcharging, the lawsuit says, harms patients in two ways. The first is that personal injury protection insurance only covers 80 percent of emergency medical care, leaving patients to pay 20 percent of the inflated cost.

The second, the lawsuit says, is that the high rates prematurely use up the PIP coverage, leaving the rest of the medical costs to be paid by the patient.

The complaint cites the experience of Marisela Herrera of West Palm Beach, underwent CT scans of her spine and brain and X-rays of her lumbar and thoracic spine at JFK Medical Center.

Those four sets of images cost nearly $18,000, the lawsuit said. For comparison, Medicare pays a total of $465 for those four imaging studies combined, the suit says.

The $18,000 exceeded Herrera’s PIP covering, leaving her to pay the balance out of pocket, as well as the cost of other services that would have been covered by the PIP coverage.

The lawsuit says that as a result of the charges, their clients have paid and/or become obligated to pay “excessive and artificially inflated medical bills for emergency radiological services ... ” and should be reimbursed. They also are asking a court to prohibit HCA from charging those fees and to stop all efforts to collect on outstanding emergency radiological bills. “The class action involves consumers all around the state,” Leopold said.

JFK Medical Center released a statement saying, “We are aware that a lawsuit has been filed. We believe the lawsuit is baseless and intend to vigorously defend it.”

kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

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