Boston – Working with two local organizations, a national consumer health care advocacy organization filed a friend-of-the court brief regarding the Quinn v. BJC Health System d/b/a BJC Healthcare settlement, stating that it is not fair, reasonable and adequate as required for court approval.
The Quinn plaintiffs, uninsured patients, accused BJC Health System hospitals of charging grossly inflated rates and having unfair charity care and collection practices. After class action status was awarded, negotiations led to a Settlement Agreement, which was preliminarily approved by the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis on March 18, 2008.
The proposed settlement offers limited benefits to uninsured patients and imposes unnecessary barriers to obtaining those benefits while allowing BJC Health System hospitals to continue charging inflated prices and aggressively collecting patient debts.
“The proposed settlement does not fully and fairly address the harm caused to vulnerable patients by BJC hospitals’ unfair pricing and collections practices,” said amicus counsel Clare McGorrian. “Community Catalyst welcomes the opportunity to speak out for Missouri health care consumers on these critical issues.”
Hospitals charge uninsured individuals rates that are far higher than those paid by insurance plans and government programs. These excessive charges lead to credit problems, bankruptcy and inability to access care. Community Catalyst is a leader in making hospitals accountable to their communities, fighting for fair pricing, expanded charity care and just collection practices.
Community Catalyst Legal Action, an initiative of Community Catalyst, Inc., filed the amicus brief this week on behalf of Community Catalyst, St. Louis Area Jobs With Justice and the Missouri Association for Social Welfare. The amicus petition asks the Missouri court to reject the proposed settlement and to urge the parties to take corrective steps, including:
1. Increase the “self-pay discount” for uninsured patients.
2. Expand the settlement class to patients who are underinsured.
3. Apply the discounts in the settlement to all medically necessary services.
4. Extend the deadline for patients to claim a refund.
5. Expand the charity care policy to cover all medically necessary health care.
6. Reduce the maximum liability of patients who have catastrophic medical costs.
7. Improve notice of discount policies, including enhanced language access and more accessible information on hospital websites.
8. Expand the training of hospital staff on financial assistance policies.
9. Strengthen and enforce oversight of collection agencies.
10. Establish a minimum fund and order that any excess be distributed for health-related charitable purposes.
11. Appoint an independent monitor to oversee implementation of the settlement.
12. Ensure that the attorneys’ fee award is proportional to the economic benefit for patients.
A hearing on the proposed settlement is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Wednesday, September 3, 2008 in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Civil Courts Building, 10 North Tucker Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri. Counsel for the amicus organizations plans to address the Court.
Community Catalysts has provided on its website the amicus papers here and here and the proposed Settlement Agreement which are now available for viewing. Additional documents concerning the proposed settlement can be found at http://bjcsettlement.com/Home.html.
Community Catalyst is a national non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to making quality, affordable health care accessible to everyone. Since 1997, Community Catalyst has worked to build consumer and community leadership to transform the American health system. With the belief that this transformation will happen when consumers are fully engaged and have an organized voice, Community Catalyst works in partnership with national, state and local consumer organizations, policymakers, and foundations, providing leadership and support to change the health care system so it serves everyone—especially vulnerable members of society. www.communitycatalyst.org
St. Louis Area Jobs With Justice is a coalition of community, labor, student and religious groups committed to fighting for economic justice and to protecting the human rights of St. Louis residents, including the right to affordable, quality health care. Jobs With Justice supports workers and their families, addressing root causes of poverty while building an economic base that benefits the entire community. St. Louis Area Jobs With Justice is one in a national network of similar coalitions in more than 40 cities that are building the movement for economic justice. A list of the member organizations of St. Louis Area Jobs With Justice is available at www.stl-jwj.org/whoweare/member-organizations.
The Missouri Association for Social Welfare (MASW) is a citizen membership organization founded in 1901, which advocates for changes in public policy to improve social conditions. MASW’s mission is to provide leadership, research, education and advocacy to improve public policies and programs impacting the health and welfare of all people in Missouri. Among its recent accomplishments, MASW led the coalition that created the Missouri Human Rights Commission and led efforts to pass a Children’s Anti-Hunger Act. MASW works to make Missouri a more just society that assures every person’s health, safety, security, independence, human rights, dignity and the opportunity to reach full potential. www.masw.org