HCA and Universal Health Services became the second and third investor-owned hospital chains to be sued for their billing of uninsured patients, this time under Nevada racketeering laws. Separate lawsuits were filed late Thursday against the two companies in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas by a legal team led by Birmingham, Ala., lawyer Archie Lamb. Both companies own hospitals in the Las Vegas area. Earlier Thursday, Lamb sued Health Management Associates, Naples, Fla., on similar grounds in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court. All three suits allege that a national class of uninsured patients has been damaged by billing practices that charge uninsured patients far more than patients covered by government or private insurance. In the HCA suit, the class includes uninsured patients from June 17, 2003, through the date a judge certifies the class. In the UHS and HMA suits, the classes include uninsured patients dating back to Aug. 6, 1994, and Aug. 5, 1994, respectively.
HCA spokesman Jeff Prescott said the company hadn't reviewed the suit yet, but a lawsuit against the company will not solve the much larger problem of uninsured patients. Thanks to additional information from the CMS at a forum in June, Prescott said HCA and many other hospital providers now know that they are able to bill uninsured patients at rates close to those charged managed-care plans. HCA is working on implementing such prices, he said. A UHS spokesman said the company did not want to comment since it hadn't reviewed the suit. HMA said Thursday it believed its billing practices were appropriate and would defend itself vigorously against the suit. -- by Vince Galloro