Uninsured Patient Sues Montana Hospital, Says Provider Agreement is Unconstitutional

An uninsured patient's lawsuit against St. Peter's Hospital in Helena, Mont., claims the hospital's discounts for health insurers results in illegally fixed prices and discrimination, according to an Independent Record report.

Jessica Gazelka was injured in a traffic accident and went to St. Peter's emergency department. As an uninsured patient, she received a bill of $2,121.43 and paid it in full, according to the suit. However, if she had been covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana, the bill would have been 20-25 percent less due to a preferred provider agreement.

She filed suit Sept. 13, claiming that since St. Peter's is the dominant provider in Helena, such arrangements unlawfully restrain trade and competition. It also alleges violation of Montana's guarantee of equal protection. Ms. Gazelka's attorneys said the lawsuit has a wider aim, extending beyond Helena and seeking to change the healthcare system.

A St. Peter's spokesperson said the hospital follows normal business practices associated with discounts, and the lawsuit appears to be a broader healthcare policy argument facing the entire country.

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