Saint Anthony’s Health Center in Alton has removed a Madison County class action suit to federal court after establishing that the proposed class could include Medicare and Medicaid patients.

Plaintiff Marty Southard of Alton sued Saint Anthony's last September, claiming that the hospital--after treating her injuries from an auto accident in 2003--improperly asserted a lien against proceeds of any suit she might bring over the accident.

Saint Anthony’s sent a bill for Southard’s treatment to the Greater St. Louis Construction Laborer’s Welfare Fund. The fund did not pay the full amount, so the hospital asserted a lien.

Southard asked Saint Anthony’s to release the lien, but it did not.

Attorneys Lanny Darr and Evan Schaeffer filed suit for Southard and moved to certify her as representative of a class of patients facing improper liens. Darr wrote that there were hundreds of thousands in the class.

Saint Anthony's is expected to host Governor Rod Blagojevich when he signs the state's medical malpractice reform bill into law this month. He has until Aug. 29.

Darr and Schaeffer had filed a similar suit in Madison County in 2003, claiming that Barnes Jewish Hospital improperly asserted a lien against patient Lucille Rutz. In that case they did not seek certification of a class action.

Barnes Jewish removed Rutz’s suit to U. S. district court last October, arguing that federal law pre-empted state law because Medicare paid the bill.

Rutz moved for remand to Madison County. On May 27, U. S. District Judge Michael Reagan denied the motion.

News of the decision reached Saint Anthony’s attorneys, Donald Smith of Alton and Antonio DeBlasio of Chicago, on June 29.

They did not know if it applied to their case, because they did not know if Southard’s proposed class included Medicare patients.

On July 15, the Southard case came before Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron on a motion of the plaintiff to compel discovery. According to DeBlasio, Southard’s attorneys sought discovery on liens asserted against Medicare and Medicaid patients.

DeBlasio filed notice of removal Aug. 2, citing the Rutz decision.

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