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Analysis

HCA Asks Judge to Toss Lawsuit Alleging ER 'Cover Charge'

By Steven Porter  
   June 18, 2019

The hospitals say the purported surcharge is just a standard emergency department facility fee, like those charged by hospitals across the industry.

Nashville-based HCA Healthcare Inc. has asked a federal judge to dismiss a putative class action lawsuit that alleges unfair billing practices at three Florida hospitals.

The plaintiffs accuse the hospitals of imposing an undisclosed surcharge—more than $3,900 in one case—for services provided in the emergency department. The added fee "is essentially a 'cover charge'" for the emergency department, the plaintiffs wrote in their complaint last month.

The three hospitals, however, argued last Friday in a motion to dismiss that the purported surcharge is just a standard emergency department facility fee, like those charged by hospitals across the industry and approved by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The hospitals—Poinciana Medical Center, Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, and Palms West Hospital—argue the suit should be dismissed because the plaintiffs never paid the fees and were never even sent invoices for the fees.

"Indeed, the only reason they are even aware of the facility fees of which they complain is that they expressly requested that the Defendant Hospitals send them an itemization of full charges," the hospitals wrote.

The hospitals argue, furthermore, that the relief being sought by this lawsuit is mooted by state and federal transparency laws and regulations that already require hospitals to disclose their prices.

In a separate motion to dismiss, HCA Healthcare, along with two of its regional divisions in Florida, argued that the lawsuit failed to distinguish between the health system, its divisions, and the three hospitals. The system also joined in the hospitals' motion to dismiss.

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Steven Porter is an associate content manager and Strategy editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.


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