HCA wins bid to dismiss ER 'cover charge' suit

A federal judge has dismissed a proposed class-action lawsuit alleging Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare billed emergency room patients for an undisclosed "cover charge," according to Law360.

Three patients sued HCA in May, alleging they were hit with an emergency room facility fee after receiving care at HCA hospitals in Florida. They claim the fee is not disclosed to patients before care is provided.

"Knowledge of this undisclosed surcharge, which is essentially a 'cover charge' or 'surcharge' for being seen in one of defendants' emergency rooms, would be a substantial factor in an emergency care patient's decision to remain at the hospital and proceed with treatment or seek less costly treatment elsewhere," states the complaint.

The plaintiffs sued HCA in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on behalf of themselves and others who were provided care at emergency rooms operated by HCA Florida or its affiliates during the last four years. The plaintiffs allege that HCA violated Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act by billing patients for the emergency room surcharge.

HCA asked the court to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim.

On Feb. 3, U.S. District Judge Roy K. Altman granted HCA's motion. The judge ruled that two of the three lead plaintiffs in the case don't have legal standing to bring the lawsuit because HCA did not try to collect payment from them.

The judge dismissed the third plaintiff's claims because his allegation that the ER facility fees were undisclosed was false. The ER facility fees were included in the hospital's chargemaster. The judge gave the plaintiff until Feb. 17 to file an amended complaint.

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