Patients sue Tenet Healthcare for hidden facility fees

A class action lawsuit accuses two Tenet Healthcare hospitals of including sneaky "facility fees" in its bills, the St. Louis Business Journal reported.

The suit aims to recover the amounts that Saint Louis University Hospital and Des Peres Hospital charged for allegedly "misleading and undisclosed" hospital facility fees for non-hospital services provided at doctor's offices and outpatient clinics affiliated with those hospitals.

The suit stems from a medical bill Patricia Thomas and her husband received for a 15-minute doctor's office visit. The bill included a $183.99 hospital facility fee, even though she neither visited the hospital nor used any hospital services, according to the couple's lawyers.

"Tenet's practices regarding charging hospital facility fees for outpatient visits is misleading, deceptive and improper," attorney Robert Friedman said in a statement. "Patients have no idea that by walking into one doctor's office instead of another's, they will pay hundreds of dollars more for the same simple in-office procedure.

Tenet asked for time to review the allegations before commenting, noted the Business Journal.

Meanwhile, the American Hospital Association is supporting a bill in Congress that would promote healthcare price transparency and would require hospitals to disclose inpatient and outpatient charges.

"A patient should be able to know what they are buying and how much they will pay out-of-pocket," bill co sponsor Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said Friday in a statement. "Arming patients with cost information is an important step in improving our country's health care system with the focus on the patient."

Increased price transparency, especially regarding hidden facility fees, could reduce billing errors between hospitals and payers, and prevent patients from getting hit with higher-than-expected medical bills.

To learn more:
- read the St. Louis Business Journal article
- here's the attorney statement (.pdf)
- read Burgess' statement