Uninsured patient files class action suits against Belleville hospitals

Ann Knef Mar. 17, 2005, 9:46am

Belleville Memorial Hospital

Robert Schmitt, who was being pursued by collection agencies for not paying his hospital bills, filed class action lawsuits against St. Elizabeth's and Memorial Hospitals claiming they charged higher rates to uninsured patients.

The lawsuits, filed March 14 in St. Clair County Circuit Court, are nearly identical. They allege breach of contract and violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act.

Schmitt contends the healthcare providers sometimes charge uninsured patients twice as much as they do to insurance companies and government payors such as Medicare, Medicaid and Illinois Public Aid.

"In reality Memorial (and St. Elizabeth's) is anything but charitable.

"While Memorial promises to provide charity care to the uninsured poor, Memorial engages in a pattern and practice of charging unreasonable, excessive and inflated rates for medical care to its uninsured patients who are all too often impoverished members of the community with little or no means to pay."

Schmitt, who is represented by Mark Goldenberg, Elizabeth Heller and W. Stan Faulkner of the Edwardsville firm Goldenberg, Miller, Heller & Antognoli P.C., was an uninsured patient at both hospitals.

On Sept. 11, 2003, Schmitt was scene at Memorial Hospital's emergency room for an injured right knee. His bill was $3,757.

On Aug. 28, 2004, Schmitt was treated at St. Elizabeth's Hospital's emergency room for injuries to his right foot. His bill was $580.

The hospitals employed collection agencies to pursue payment for both visits, according to the suits.

"Not only does Memorial charge its uninsured patients the highest rates for medical care, which most cannot affort to pay, it has also engaged in the uniform pattern and practice of aggressively pursuing such debt through collection efforts," the suit states.

"It has filed hundreds of lawsuits, garnished patients' wages and seized tax refunds."

Schmitt, a St. Clair County resident, also claims the hospitals "scheme" to dissuade uninsured patients from applying for financial assistance.

"Memorial routinely places obstacles in the way of patients applying for charity care that have the impact of discouraging class members from making legitimate application for charity cases," the suit states.

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