A group of uninsured patients brought a class action lawsuit against Yale-New Haven Hospital, the Yale New Haven Health System and the American Hospital Association yesterday.
The legal action, filed by patients alleging that the hospital failed to provide care regardless of patients’ financial status, represents the 47th class action lawsuit concerning hospital billing and collection practices filed nationwide since June 17. The suits have involved over 350 hospitals to date.
Robert D. Siegfriend, spokesman for the law firms filing the suits, said the hospitals are charging their uninsured patients the highest price of all the patient groups.
“The hospitals that have been sued — whether they’re big, medium-sized or small — have the common characteristic that they are not providing charitable care to their patients,” Siegfried said.
The hospital has been subjected to many such lawsuits in the last year. Hospital spokesman Vin Petrini said Yale-New Haven Hospital has already taken steps to remedy these issues, which include closing all accounts over five years old and removing property liens originally intended to compel former patients to pay their bills.
“We feel these are issues that we’ve addressed comprehensively, both at Yale-New Haven and our affiliates,” Petrini said.
The AHA is a co-defendant, accused of allowing Yale-New Haven to continue its alleged wrongful dealings with uninsured and underinsured patients.
The hospital offers free care to patients with incomes below 250 percent of the national poverty level and a sliding-scale program to decrease payments required of patients with incomes between 250 to 350 percent of the U.S. poverty level.
Petrini said a family of four at 350 percent of the national poverty level has an annual income of approximately $66,000.
Accusations of the hospital’s failure to provide affordable care challenge Yale-New Haven Hospital’s federal and state tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization.
“These hospitals all get, from state and local authorities, massive tax exemptions,” Siegfried said. “That’s fine as long as they provide the charitable care. But they’re not doing that, and, in effect, taxpayers are underwriting a huge insurance premium for the hospitals to take care of the uninsured.”
Lead attorney for the plaintiffs Richard F. Scruggs has served as the chief attorney in the high-profile tobacco lawsuits of the last decade. The legal actions are filed by a number of firms working collaboratively, unofficially called the Not-For-Profit Litigation Group. Many of the lawyers involved have represented the plaintiffs in major tobacco and asbestos lawsuits.
Siegfried said the hospitals that are included in the suits — in addition to failing to provide patients with aid in paying their bills — stand accused of engaging in aggressive collection tactics to obtain their fees. Many, including Yale-New Haven Hospital, are also charged with collecting money for goods and services unrelated to hospital care.
Siegfried said the hospital industry should be more closely monitored by the government in order to avoid such infractions.
“There are 45 million uninsured people, which is the highest it’s ever been,” Siegfried said. “It’s a growing crisis — Health care has become an enormous industry, but unlike other huge industries, it falls between the cracks in terms of regulation.”