HCA fires back in lawsuit over ER 'cover charge'

HCA Healthcare argues a proposed class-action lawsuit alleging the company and several of its hospitals bill patients an emergency room "cover charge" should be thrown out.

In a lawsuit filed in May, three patients who received emergency care at hospitals operated by Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare allege they were hit with an ER fee after receiving care at HCA hospitals in Florida. They claim the surcharge is not disclosed to patients before care is provided.

The plaintiffs, who filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, allege that HCA violated Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act by billing patients for the ER surcharge.

In a motion to dismiss the complaint filed June 14, HCA says the plaintiffs' claims fail for several reasons. HCA argues the improper "surcharges" plaintiffs refer to in their complaint are codes for ER facility fees, which are a standard industry charge recognized by CMS.

HCA further argues that the complaint should be dismissed because plaintiffs were never charged for or paid the facility fees in question and the fees are not "concealed," as plaintiffs allege.

"They are disclosed in the hospitals' charge masters, which are made available to patients upon request, and incorporated into admission contracts," states HCA's motion to dismiss. "By the same token, federal and state transparency laws and regulations require that hospitals post their charges online, rendering plaintiffs' claims for injunctive relief all the more moot."

HCA and its hospital affiliates requested that the lawsuit be dismissed with prejudice.

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