HCA's Florida hospitals accused of milking automobile policies

lawsuit accuses HCA-operated hospitals in Florida of rapidly depleting the medical benefits included in automobile insurance policies by charging as much as 65 times Medicare rates for rendering medical services to accident victims.

The lawsuit, scheduled to go to hearing this week, accuses HCA hospitals of targeting personal injury protection benefits, which are mandatory under Florida law. Such benefits provide a standard $10,000 of coverage for medical care to victims of automobile accidents, regardless of who is at fault, according to Insurancenews.net.

One patient treated at HCA-owned JFK Medical Center in Palm Beach, Florida was charged $5,900 for a CT scan of her spine, $6,404 for a brain scan, $3,359 for a lumbar spine x-ray and $2,222 for a thoracic spine x-ray. The Medicare rates for those scans are $479 combined. Uninsured patients are charged less than $3,500 for a CT scan at that facility, according to the lawsuit.

That patient was left to pay $6,500 in hospital charges after her coverage reached its cap and another $4,000 in post-discharge medical services.

Another patient treated at Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida was charged more than $13,000 for two CT scans, lawyersandsettlements.com reported.

"They are purposely overcharging and thus taking the money from those needing the medical care and help," Theodore Leopold, attorney for the plaintiffs, told InsuranceNews.net.

The case is not dissimilar to one that ended up with St. Luke's Health in Kansas City, Missouri paying $3.5 million last year to settle. St. Luke's had apparently collected claims from automobile policies even if the patient being treated had health insurance. If the automobile insurer did not settle the claim quickly and the window lapsed on filing a claim with the health carrier, St. Luke's often filed a lien against the patient directly.

In the Florida case, hospital officials counter that the coverage limits are currently insufficient. They "have not kept up with inflation and the cost of healthcare generally," Linda Quick, president of the South Florida Hospital & Healthcare Association, told InsuranceNews.net. "What you can get for $10,000 is nowhere near what you used to be able to get for $10,000."

To learn more:
- here is the lawsuit (.pdf)
- read the InsuranceNews.net article
- check out the lawyersandsettlements.com article