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Inova Lawsuit Dismissed — For Now

Voluntary dismissal described as "tactical."

A class action law suit brought against Inova Health System in U.S. District Court in Alexandria alleging unfair billing practices against patients without insurance has been withdrawn by the plaintiff's attorneys. However, they have said they plan to refile.

Paul Shipman of Herndon claimed he was charged in excess of $29,000 for a 21-hour stay at Inova Fairfax Hospital for a heart catheterization. Shipman's attorneys maintained that the procedure should have cost far less and the reason his bill was so large was that he did not have any insurance coverage, either private or governmental.

ATTORNEYS FOR SHIPMAN also claimed that IHS, a non-profit charitable organization, had violated their Internal Revenue Code status as a 501(c)(3) organization. According to Shipman's attorneys, Inova, by accepting the non-profit status, had agreed:

"Explicitly and/or implicitly ... to provide mutually affordable medical care to all its patients; to charge all its uninsured patients only a reasonable cost for medical care; not to charge uninsured patients inflated rates; and not to pursue outstanding medical debt from its uninsured patients through humiliating collection efforts."

On Sept. 24, IHS, IHS Foundation, and the American Hospital Association, all defendants in the local suit, filed in U.S. District Court for dismissal and to be removed from the nationwide class action suit. Thomas F. Cullen, Jr., arguing for Inova and AHA, before Judge Gerald B. Lee, said "Each count of the complaint must be dismissed for failure to state a claim."

However, before Lee could render a decision, Shipman's attorneys voluntarily requested that the case be dismissed. They maintained that this had been done for "tactical reasons" and that they planned to refile the case.

Steven M. Garver, of Reston, one of the attorneys representing Shipman, said, "There is nothing I can say at this time except there is an intent to refile the case. We do intend to pursue it for our client."

The IHS case is one of 50 filed in 23 states against non-profit hospital groups. Plaintiff's legal team is headed by Richard F. Scruggs, Oxford Mississippi. In a statement issued after their request for dismissal they said:

"Despite its obligations to operate as a non-profit tax-exempt hospital, Inova has imposed inflated rates upon its uninsured patients. These rates significantly exceed Inova's costs and significantly exceed the rates offered to every other category of patients. It is wrong and misleading for Inova to suggest that this case is over. The case will be refiled and the Plaintiff will continue to challenge Inova's discriminatory pricing practice imposed only upon uninsured patients. Inova has refused to address their discriminatory pricing practice which is the central issue in this case and which will continue to be challenged in the national litigation."

In answer, IHS issued a statement acknowledging the plaintiff's voluntary dismissal saying, "While we would have preferred to obtain a ruling from the court, we are pleased that the lawsuit has been dismissed."

IHS'S STATEMENT REITERATED their position as stated in their motion to dismiss in September: "Litigation such as this is misdirected and diverts attention from the real issue of how we as a nation can address the growing number of uninsured Americans. Law suits will not help a single patient obtain health insurance."

The IHS statement also said, "Inova does its part by caring for the people of Northern Virginia, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. We have a comprehensive charity care policy that benefits patients in our community with limited income."

When asked his evaluation of the plaintiff's voluntary dismissal, Cullen said, "My take is the same as what Scruggs said — it's tactical. But, it seems rather damaging to their case. As I said in court this is a social issue with no case."

On Sept. 30 arguments were put forth in federal court in Philadelphia, Pa., to have all 50 cases previously filed lumped together in a single action. Arguing against that strategy, Cullen said, "The center of gravity for all these disputes is inevitably local."

No time limit has been set on a potential decision to agree or not to agree on combining the cases into a single class action suit. The Inova suit was not part of the Sept. 30 arguments since it had been dismissed. However, if it is refiled it could become part of a combined suit, if that is approved by the court, at a future date, according to Cullen.