Last week a federal district judge in Birmingham dismissed a class action suit against Baptist Health Systems of Alabama claiming that uninsured patients had been "overcharged and subjected to unfair collection tactics."
The case against Baptist is one of 48 filed nationally on behalf of the uninsured, spearheaded by Richard Scruggs, the Mississippi lawyer who sued tobacco companies. The common thread is the claim that nonprofit hospitals are not living up to their charitable missions because they charge uninsured patients much more than insured patients and then go after the patients aggressively to collect the bills.
The Baptist case is the first one nationally to be dismissed at the defendant's request.
The judge ruled that "the three named plaintiffs could not sue in federal court because they already had lost in state court when Baptist sued them to collect unpaid medical bills." Further, the judge dismissed plaintiffs' claims that "Baptist violated the federal law that requires a hospital to provide emergency medical care regardless of ability to pay; they did receive treatment." The plaintiffs' attorney declared that he would re-file the case with a new set of nominal plaintiffs.
For more on this phenomenon, see the Not-for-Profit Hospital Class Action Litigation site.
(Anna Velasco, "Suit against Baptist hospitals dismissed," Birmingham News, Oct. 23)