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| Wooten Kimbrough Damaso & Dennis, P.A.

There is a little known but highly unfair practice in charges for hospital care. That is that a private pay or uninsured patient is charged much more for the exact same services than is charged to insured patients. Many times the hospital bill for a private, uninsured, patient is 200 to 300 percent that of the charges that an insurer is billed for the very same treatment. To make matters worse, a hospital lien statute exists in many Florida Counties that gives a hospital the right to take most or all of a personal injury settlement to pay for these inflated charges. These hospital liens prohibit a lawyer or insurer from distributing any part of settlement to an injured person until the hospital gets paid in full, even when the settlement includes other medical bills, lost earnings or pain and suffering damages. In effect, the hospital can charge whatever it wants and hold the settlement up until it gets paid that blood money in full–to the detriment of doctor bills, and to the exclusion of even necessary future medical care.

A recent case in Florida addressed this lien statute and found it to be unconstitutional. The case is called Mercury Insurance Company of Florida v. Shands Teaching Hospitals and Clinics, Inc. In Mercury, the Florida First District Court of Appeals held the Alachua County Florida hospital lien law to be unconstitutional. This only makes sense. There is no valid reason should a hospital charge uninsured patients at a higher rate and then get a blank check to take away an entire settlement. What is fair is that they charge a reasonable rate and the settlement is allocated fairly to all, be they hospitals, doctors and the victim’s family. This is especially relevant given the recent disclosure that many hospital executives at even so called not for profit hospitals are being paid millions in annual salary and bonuses.

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