A state court judge in Charlotte, N.C., dismissed 31 of 32 counts against five North Carolina healthcare systems facing class-action lawsuits for allegedly overcharging the uninsured. Superior Court Judge Forrest Bridges said the plaintiffs had failed to make legally valid claims against Carolinas Healthcare System, Charlotte; North Carolina Baptist Hospital, Winston-Salem; NorthEast Medical Center, Concord; Rowan Regional Medical Center, Salisbury; and Moses Cone Health System, Greensboro. The remaining claim was a procedural request; the defendants anticipate a dismissal, the hospitals' attorney, Tom Stukes, said. Plaintiff attorney Gary Jackson said he will appeal and anticipates filing similar lawsuits against other hospitals. In other litigation over not-for-profit hospitals' billing, a circuit court in Chicago dismissed a suit against Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Judge Thomas Quinn said the practice of giving discounts to large buyers was legitimate. The plaintiff reportedly has appealed. Northwestern declined to comment.
Calif. nurse-staffing fight ends
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked a state appeals court to dismiss the state's bid to relax required nurse-to-patient ratios in hospital units, ending a protracted battle with the California Nurses Association. California's attorney general moved to withdraw the state's appeal of a June ruling by Superior Court that found the administration had overstepped its authority in relaxing the ratios through an emergency regulation. A spokeswoman with the California Hospital Association, which joined the appeal, declined to comment on the state's request. California's landmark 1999 law requires hospitals to meet minimum nurse-to-patient staffing ratios.
Medicare fraud declines
The CMS said fraud, abuse and errors in Medicare fee-for-service bills dropped to 5.2% of billings, or $12.1 billion, in fiscal 2005 from 10.1%, or $21.7 billion, in fiscal 2004. CMS Administrator Mark McClellan credited increased oversight, data review and provider education. The error rate was based on a review of more than 260,000 Medicare claims. The fee-for-service program pays more than 1 billion claims annually. McClellan said the CMS will apply a similar review process to Medicaid fee-for-service claims in 2006 and will expand its review to Medicaid managed care and State Children's Health Insurance Program claims in 2007.