Three hospitals have paid a total of $125,000 to settle charges that they "dumped" patients for economic reasons in violation of federal law.
None of the hospitals admitted to any legal violations.
Baptist Medical Center of the Beaches, a 76-bed facility in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., paid the highest settlement of the three -- $75,000.
Baptist, part of Baptist-St. Vincent's Health System in Jacksonville, settled the charges to avoid the uncertainty and expense of a lawsuit, said Harvey Granger, general counsel for Baptist-St. Vincent's.
The hospital was able to negotiate its payment to HHS' inspector general's office down from the government's proposed $475,000, Granger said.
A review by HCFA found that between Aug. 6, 1994, and April 4, 1995, 19 alleged "patient dumping" violations occurred, Granger said. But the incidents had a common thread: All were insured through managed-care plans.
"This was not the usual type of patient dumping," Granger said. "Almost all of these patients were managed-care patients who came into the emergency room and were from plans not accepted at the hospital or from plans that required pre-authorization for certain screenings.
"We were trying to protect hospitals from being financially responsible for the bill. Our motives were pure."
In 1996 Florida law was changed to prohibit managed-care plans from requiring a pre-authorization before seeking emergency room care.
In another case, 164-bed Rome (N.Y.) Memorial Hospital paid $35,000 to settle charges that a patient with emergency medical needs was transferred in unstable condition without being informed of the risks of the transfer.
The hospital performed the proper screening and admitting procedures, treating and discharging the patient within 48 hours, said Cassie Evans Winter, public relations manager for Rome Memorial. After discharge, the patient was transferred to a facility chosen by the patient, Winter said.
In Ripley, W.Va., 82-bed Jackson General Hospital paid $15,000 to settle charges that it dumped two emergency room patients in separate incidents during May 1996. Officials at Jackson General did not return repeated telephone calls seeking comment.
As part of their settlements, each of the three hospitals must run two advertisements in its local newspaper to remind residents that the hospital's emergency room is open to everyone, regardless of ability to pay.
The settlements bring to at least eight the number of hospital patient dumping cases settled by HHS last year.