Will cases against Phoebe Putney and Archbold go to trial? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Will cases against Phoebe Putney and Archbold go to trial?

Albany - A federal judge will decide if there's enough proof two South Georgia hospitals overcharged uninsured patients to bring the case to trial. The hospitals say they did nothing illegal and the cases should be dismissed.

At least three patients are suing Phoebe Putney and Archbold Health Systems for overcharging them and using aggressive tactics to collect payments. The lawsuits are part of a wave of cases against non-profit hospitals nationwide. Now, it's up to a Federal Judge to determine if the case has legal merit.

"We contend the plaintiffs were charged inflated rates more than those who have insurance, outrageous rates for a matter of fact," said the patients' attorney Ralph Scoccimaro.

Scoccimaro told Federal Court Judge Louis Sands the hospitals broke the law and should be punished. "That constitutes a breech of good faith and fair dealing," said Scoccimaro. "When you're giving a contract, where there's an open ended term, where your told 'we're going to charge you full charges,' you expect them to be reasonable charges. We were not given a reasonable charge."

He also argues non-profit hospitals, exempt from taxes, must follow certain rules such as giving health care to everyone for a reasonable cost. If that doesn't happen, he says patients have a right to sue. But, Phoebe Putney attorneys disagree. Rick Langley says tax exemption doesn't require hospitals to give free medical care. And he says even if it did, patients would be a third party to the government-hospital contract and therefore unable to sue.

"The defense's contention is that there is no third party beneficiary contract and that the uninsured have no right to bring a cause to action," said Scoccimaro.

Phoebe and Archbold Health Systems want the cases dismissed. They argue if hospitals aren't following tax exemptions rules, the IRS not the court should step in. Scoccimaro says the IRS is doing nothing. "When at state or federal agency doesn't do anything about it, the people have to. We have to resort to the courts."

Federal courts across the country are dismissing similar cases. Eighteen out of 60 cases against non-profit hospitals have been dismissed so far. Phoebe officials say this wave of lawsuits is nothing more than greedy lawyers wanting to get rich.

"We feel that these frivolous lawsuits involving self-proclaimed whistle blowers and celebrity trial lawyers are really aimed at trying to distract us, and hospitals across the country, from our mission of care," said Jackie Ryan. "We feel today these facts will result in a positive solution for us as well."

Once both sides make their arguments to Judge Sands, he'll decide whether a jury will hear the evidence and decided the outcome during trial.

posted by kathryn.murchison@walb.com