A Medical Device Daily

Saint Joseph's Hospital of Atlanta has been accused of engaging in a systematic scheme to inappropriately admit and overcharge thousands of patients, according to the law firm Page Perry (Atlanta), which filed suit against the hospital last week.

Attorneys are seeking class action status on behalf of patients, who they say have been overbilled by the practice.

Former Saint Joseph's patient Steven Lamb, of Snellville, Georgia, alleged that a carotid artery stent procedure he underwent in 2005 kept him admitted on an "inpatient" basis for two days — about twice as long as was medically necessary and at a more costly rate than an "outpatient" visit, which typically is accomplished in hours, not days.

According to the complaint, "In order to increase revenues, and thus profitability, [Saint Joseph's] engaged in a widespread and systematic scheme to admit to inpatient status patients who did not otherwise meet inpatient admission criteria and then issue charges and bills for such inpatient services accordingly. This scheme was well known to [Saint Joseph's] management, administration, staff and contractors, if not also its board of directors. Moreover, [Saint Joseph's] management and administration actively concealed such practices."

Attorneys will seek to have the lawsuit certified as a class action that includes all patients of the hospital system between Jan. 1, 2000, and Dec. 21, 2007, who were improperly admitted to Saint Joseph's under inpatient status.

In December 2007, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia announced a settlement in which Saint Joseph's paid $26 million to settle federal false claims allegations related to thousands of patient stays between 2000 and 2005 that were billed to the Medicare program. The new lawsuit seeks to recover costs billed to individual patients.