Cleveland Clinic loses bid to dismiss proposed class-action lawsuit alleging deceptive billing

A Court of Common Pleas judge denied Cleveland Clinic's motion to dismiss a proposed class-action suit challenging its billing practices. 

The lawsuit alleges Cleveland Clinic violated the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act and claims the health system's "unfair" and "deceptive" billing practices created confusion, undue stress and resulted in financial harm to patients.

According to the initial lawsuit filed in August, Amanda van Brakle went to a Cleveland Clinic facility in Lakewood, Ohio, in August 2018 for radiology imaging services. At no time before the services was Ms. van Brakel informed that she could receive an estimate of the cost of the procedure nor was she given an estimate of the cost, according to the lawsuit.

At the appointment, Ms. van Brakle was asked to make a $25 payment toward the service, but she was not given a receipt. Over time, Ms. van Brakle made additional payments totalling $288 toward the radiology imaging service. 

However, Cleveland Clinic never provided receipts of the payments, nor did it apply all of the payments toward the radiology services, instead crediting them toward a different service, prosecutors allege.

At the end of 2018, Cleveland Clinic hired a debt collector to pursue Ms. van Brakle for what she called the overinflated outstanding balance for the imaging services. 

According to the complaint, Cleveland Clinic's failure to provide receipts of the payments and failure to notify and provide the patient with the estimate violated Ohio's consumer protection law. 

Ms. van Brakle amended the complaint in November, seeking not only individual relief for herself, but also certification as a class action for all others who faced similar billing scenarios. 

In its November 2020 motion to dismiss the potential class-action, Cleveland Clinic argued that the medical services it provided were not considered a "consumer transaction" covered by the state's consumer protection law. 

The Cleveland Clinic claims that "nothing in [the language of the rules] indicates or even suggests that the regulations apply to medical billing for healthcare providers."

In a Jan. 14 decision, Judge John O'Donnell ruled that the lawsuit may go forward and that Cleveland Clinic's arguments to dismiss were unconvincing or unsupported.

The judge also said Ms. van Brakle's claims are sufficient to support a class-action claim. 

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