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Suit Against IHS Now in Limbo

Inova Health System (IHS) and the American Hospital Association (AHA) have gotten an apparent reprieve in their fight against a class action law suit brought by a Herndon resident challenging the practice of charging different rates for the same procedure based on whether a patient is insured or not.

Last week in Philadelphia, Penn., the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation denied the consolidation of federal lawsuits brought against 50 non-profit hospital groups in 23 states. This means each of the suits will have to be argued separately in each jurisdiction.

Had the panel found otherwise, the suit against IHS, IHS Foundation, and AHA could have been made a part of the consolidated legal action at a future date had it been reactivated. It was withdrawn by the plaintiff after a motion to deny was brought by IHS and AHA in Alexandria U.S. District Court.

"We welcome the decision of the Judicial Panel ... against the consolidation of the federal lawsuits that have been brought against non-profit hospitals," said AHA president Dick Davidson.

"The AHA, which was named as a defendant in many of the lawsuits, had joined all the defendant hospitals in opposing the motion by a national team of trial lawyers, arguing that asking the court to consolidate the cases was simply a legal maneuver to benefit trial lawyers at the expense of hundreds of local hospitals," Davidson said.

"The panel's decision means we can now move to the merits of the case and, hopefully, this decision will lead to a speedy and fair conclusion of the cases, so that hospitals can fully focus their time and resources on the daily mission of taking care of their communities," he said.

"We continue to believe that the best place to address the health care needs of our local communities is among the hospitals, patients, doctors and nurses who live and work in those communities, not in the courts," Davidson said.

IN THE INOVA CASE, 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 no more than an estimated $6,000. The reason given for the amount of the bill was that Shipman did not have health insurance.

Shipman's attorneys also claimed that IHS, a non-profit charitable organization, had violated their Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) status and had engaged in "humiliating collection efforts." On Sept. 24, IHS, IHS Foundation, and AHA filed at motion to dismiss in Alexandria U.S. District Court before Judge Gerald B. Lee on the grounds "Each count of the complaint must be dismissed for failure to state a claim."

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

On Sept. 30 the motion to consolidate the previously filed cases was argued in Philadelphia. Had the motion to consolidate been approved, the IHS case could have been added to the list at a later date, according to Thomas F. Cullen, Jr., attorney for IHS and others in the action.

Based on the Philadelphia decision against consolidation, if the IHS/AHA case is refiled it would stand alone, as do the others as of this writing. No announced decision on that has been made at this time by Shipman's attorneys.

Since the decision was rendered in Philadelphia, the U.S. District Court in Alabama has ruled in favor of Baptist Health Systems Inc., and AHA in the first decision on a motion to dismiss in the non-profit litigation.

In dismissing that case, the court said, "Earlier court settlements regarding their hospital bills barred plaintiffs from bringing this lawsuit forward." The court also specifically dismissed the counts because "there were no claims that the plaintiff failed to receive appropriate screening, emergency stabilization or sustained any personal injury."

Cullen had argued a similar point, pertaining to personal injury, in the IHS/AHA motion to dismiss in the Alexandria court. He stated, at that time, Shipman did not contest the quality of his treatment or that he has suffered any loss due to that treatment.

There is no indication what the future of the IHS case will be. Plaintiff's attorneys have not refiled the suit at this time.