PITTSBURGH-Scruggs Law Firm, Oxford, Miss., said last week that it did not expect a ruling in a class-action lawsuit against University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to affect the outcome of litigation nationwide over hospitals' billing of uninsured patients. The case against UPMC was brought on behalf of uninsured patients by a Monroeville, Pa., attorney and is separate from dozens of similar class-action lawsuits brought by a consortium of law firms led by attorney Richard Scruggs. All of the lawsuits, however, allege that not-for-profit hospitals, in violation of their charitable standing, charge uninsured patients too much for care and are too aggressive in trying to collect payments. In recommending that the UPMC case be dismissed, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell said the hospital's tax exemption did not create a contract with the federal government requiring the hospital to provide affordable medical care to all patients. The plaintiffs may appeal to a district court judge. "While we have not seen a copy of the magistrate's report, we do note that the magistrate's recommendations do not address state issues," the Scruggs firm said in a statement. "For lawyers of defendant hospitals to simply jump on this single case and attempt to apply it to our litigation or any of the settlement discussions we are having ... is a foolhardy tactic and misleading to the public marketplace."
HARRISBURG, Pa.-Potentially avoidable hospitalizations accounted for 10% of admissions among people under age 65 in Pennsylvania in 2003, a 4.1% increase since 1995, according to the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, a state agency. The 109,000 potentially avoidable hospitalizations-for conditions such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension, low birth weight and pneumonia-accounted for $2.8 billion and 550,000 hospital days. Hospitalizations for low birth weight represented 9% of preventable hospitalizations but 26% of hospital days (143,000) and 25% of charges (more than $710 million).
NEW YORK-Lenox Hill Hospital saw its debt rating downgraded several notches to Baa2 from A3 last month by Moody's Investors Service, which cited a deterioration in the hospital's balance sheet that began in 2003. The outlook is negative. Moody's said it was concerned about ongoing losses at 28-bed Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital and a rapid decline in the year-to-date performance at 626-bed Lenox Hill. Lenox Hill "was a positive anomaly in the New York City market" in 2001, with healthy operating profits for four preceding years, Moody's said. But since the acquisition of the eye, ear and throat hospital, management has faced declining volumes and inadequate revenue, as have other New York providers. Through the first nine months of 2004, Lenox Hill lost $19.1 million on operations, up from an operating loss of $1.2 million in the year-ago period. The 2004 loss was caused in part by a $25 million reduction in outlier revenue, Moody's said. A turnaround will take at least a year, the ratings agency said.