A class-action lawsuit challenging Centura Health’s billing practices has moved from federal court to a state district court in La Plata County after the health corporation sought to delay and dismiss the case on jurisdictional grounds.
Centura Health argued last month that the U.S. District Court of Colorado, a federal court, does not have jurisdiction over the case because the plaintiff, Franklin Walker, is a resident of Flora Vista, New Mexico.
Tim Blood, one of the attorneys in the class-action case and a managing partner for Blood, Hurst & O’Reardon LLP in San Diego, said the defendant decided to voluntarily move the case from the federal court to the state district court to prevent further delay. Courts typically put a case on hold until questions of jurisdiction are addressed.
“We want to get to the merits of the case,” Blood said.
The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, which allows Walter’s case to be considered in federal court, could give Centura Health a chance to appeal the results of the case on a narrow issue, and Blood said he wants to avoid that.
The plaintiff filed in Colorado instead of New Mexico because that is where his surgery took place and where Centura Health is headquartered, Blood said.
Walter, a patient at Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango – one of the 17 hospitals owned by Centura Health – received a surprise bill for $1,216.73 two months after his routine knee replacement without an explanation or an itemized statement.
He argues the “Consent for Medical Treatment” contract he signed before the procedure requires the nonprofit corporation to provide patients with an estimate of what they will have to pay out of pocket.
The contract between Mercy and nonemergency patients says: “I acknowledge that estimated responsibility is due at the time of service and that any remaining charges are due and payable upon receipt of the bill.”
Jennifer Wills, vice president of communications and chief of staff for Centura Health, said in an email statement to The Durango Herald last month that Walter was a patient covered by Medicare, and Medicare does not cover medications an outside physician prescribes.
Wills also said it is impossible for Centura Health to provide a patient with an estimate of his or her personal out-of-pocket costs before a procedure because their hospitals do not know which medications will be ordered by the patient’s physician until after the procedure.
Centura Health declined to comment about the change in venue.