Monday, October 19, 2015

Memorial Hermann faces class-action accusing the nonprofit hospital system of fleecing ER patients without insurance by charging them astronomical rates

Memorial Hermann Hospital System does not only sue scores of patients over unpaid hospital bills, it is also charging emergency room patients a multiple of the rates paid by private insurers and government programs such as Medicare, according to a class-action petition filed last week in Harris County District Court. 

The pleading alleges that the rates charged are grossly excessive, and that they far exceed the reasonable value of the services provided. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of one former Memorial Hermann ER patient, who complains that her bill was excessive, and seeks class certification on behalf of other whose hospital bill was not covered by insurance, and who were similarly overcharged.
Memorial Hermann has a practice of suing patients with unpaid bills on "sworn account" (with bills attached that have all meaningful detail removed, ostensibly for privacy reasons), leaving patients sued for the cost of medical treatment (excessive or otherwise) virtually without recourse to challenge the reasonableness of the bills, especially if they cannot afford legal representation, and do not know how to fight a sworn-account suit and contest the reasonableness of the amounts printed on the hospital's billing statement. Additionally, the law firm that handles the non-profit hospital's debt collection litigation routinely requests and receives substantial attorney's fees.
The class-action seeks a declaratory judgment that Memorial Herman's billing practices for ER patients without insurance, -- i.e. self-pay patients -- are improper and excessive, and that the hospital system is only entitled to be paid for charges that are reasonable. The lawsuit also challenges the contracts that ER patients are forced to sign upon admission as meaningless because no information is provided about the billing rates to which the patients purportedly agree (making the price an "open term" in the contract), and that the charges are - in fact - not standard because the rates for other patients are much lower and are either set by the government or negotiated with private insurance providers, with different rates resulting depending on the particular payor and the deal negotiated with it.    


Cause No. 2015-61950, Nataliya Shahin, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, v, Memorial Hermann Health System, e-filed with the Harris County District Clerk on October 16, 2015, and assigned to the 333rd District Court.