HUNDREDS OF NON-PROFIT HOSPITALS NATIONWIDE ARE UNDER SCRUTINY, ACCUSED
OF BILLING UNINSURED PATIENTS AT THE HIGHEST RATES AND OF USING AGGRESSIVE COLLECTION PRACTICES TO GO AFTER THEM, ON ABC NEWS' "PRIMETIME LIVE"
Also: Cynthia McFadden's Exclusive Interviews with Key Figures in the
Headline-Making Daniel Pelosi Murder Case
It all began with two whistleblowers who first looked at the finances of their local non-profit hospital and realized that, at the same time it was charging uninsured patients the highest rates and often using aggressive collection practices to collect the money, it made huge profits and had enormous cash reserves. They then expanded their investigation nationwide, drawing the attention of a powerful lawyer who earned millions taking on the tobacco industry, reports Chris Cuomo. As a result, hundreds of non-profit hospitals are now being accused in lawsuits of questionable practices, many of them forced to defend the level of charity services they provide and justify their tax-exempt status. It's an epic legal battle that could have huge implications for the healthcare industry, airing on "Primetime Live," THURSDAY, DECEMBER 16 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.
John Bagnato and Charles Rehberg of Albany, GA, explain why they decided to examine the books of neighboring Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. They say they discovered the hospital is flush with money-millions in profits and a CEO with a salary exceeding half-a-million dollars-and charges uninsured patients incredibly high fees. Phoebe Putney CEO Joel Wernick says his hospital spent $50 million on charity care last year and that its large profits are just a sign of a healthy organization. He tells Cuomo the hospital is not price gouging the uninsured, and aggressively reaches out to them to let them know the hospital is willing to help with their bills. "It's not a big secret in Albany, Georgia that Phoebe Putney takes care of everybody who walks through the door," says Wernick.
"Primetime" also looks at St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson, MS, run by a nun whose salary exceeds $500,000 per year (the hospital says she pockets none of the money -- her salary goes directly towards supporting her religious order). Cuomo talks to uninsured patients who say the hospital sued them and even got a court order to tap into their life savings in order to collect payment.
Attorney Richard Scruggs made a fortune going after "Big Tobacco," and his team of litigators has sued 48 hospital systems, including 400 hospitals nationwide. The federal lawsuits charge that non-profit hospitals, which are tax-exempt, should be doing more to help non-insured patients. The hospital industry says the lawsuits are misguided-the hospitals have no legal obligation to provide more charity care than they already do ($25 billion in 2003).
Plus: This week Daniel Pelosi was convicted of second degree murder for the killing of millionaire Ted Ammon. Cynthia McFadden has exclusive interviews with some of the key players in this headline-making case, including Prosecutor Janet Albertson and Pelosi's father, Bob, who discusses the torment of having to provide testimony for the prosecution against his own son.
DIANE SAWYER, CHRIS CUOMO, CYNTHIA McFADDEN and JOHN QUIQONES are the anchors of "Primetime Live." SHELLEY ROSS is the executive producer.