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Ohio Hospitals and Healthcare Clinics: It’s Time to Revisit Your Billing and Collection Practices

According to a recent Cuyahoga County case, certain healthcare entities may not be protected from liability when engaging in unfair or deceptive billing acts. This decision is consistent with the growing trend across the country to encourage price transparency and eliminate unfair surprise billing practices by health care organizations.[1] Now is the time for hospitals and other health care organizations to revisit their billing and collection policies and procedures to confirm that they are legally defensible and consistent with best practices.

New Developments

On January 14, 2021, the trial court in Cuyahoga County ruled in Brakle v. Cleveland Clinic Foundation that Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act (“CSPA”) does not exclude transactions between patients and hospitals or healthcare clinics. These healthcare entities are not “physicians” as such term is defined in the CSPA and are therefore not shielded from liability stemming from consumer transactions.

Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act

The CSPA prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in connection with a consumer transaction.[2] Examples of unfair or deceptive acts/practices under Ohio law include but are not limited to: (1) failing to notify a customer that the customer has a right to an estimate for any service that will cost over $25; (2) failing to provide an estimate upon request; and (3) failing to give the customer a receipt after accepting a deposit.[3] As defined, a consumer transaction means, in part, a service to an individual for purposes that are primarily personal, family, or household.[4] The law expressly carves out transactions between physicians and their patients.[5] Therefore, transactions between physicians and their patients are not subject to the rules and regulations surrounding unfair or deceptive acts or practices.

Brakle v. Cleveland Clinic Foundation

Pursuant to an order from her physician, Amanda van Brakle (“Plaintiff”) visited a Cleveland Clinic (“Defendant”) facility in 2018 for radiology services. No physician participated in administering the services. At no time prior to the services did Defendant inform Plaintiff that she was entitled to an estimate of the cost of the services nor was she given any estimate of the cost. At the appointment, Plaintiff made a small payment toward the total cost of the service and was not given a receipt for such payment. Over time, Plaintiff made additional payments toward the bill and Defendant failed to render receipts. Defendant also credited these payments to a balance owed for different services and not the radiology services. Defendant eventually sent Plaintiff’s debt to collection. Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant for violations of the CSPA for failing to notify her of her rights to a pre-service estimate, failing to provide such an estimate, and failing to provide receipts.

Defendant filed motion for summary judgment (i.e., asking the court to dismiss the case) on several grounds, but the overarching justification being the service provided to Plaintiff is not a “consumer transaction” covered by the CSPA since the law excludes transactions between physicians and their patients. The Court ultimately disagreed with Defendant and denied the motion for summary judgment. The Court found that “physician” means a person skilled in the art of healing or a practitioner of medicine; a person duly authorized or licensed to treat diseases; and one lawfully engaged in the practice of medicine.[6] Simply put, Defendant is not a human being. The Court stated it is a corporate entity clearly outside of the definition of “physician” as commonly understood.[7] As such, the transaction at issue is not protected by the CSPA, the motion for summary judgment was dismissed, and the case will proceed.

Please contact attorneys Kate Hickner at kehickner@bmdllc.com or Kevin Cripe at kmcripe@bmdllc.com should you have any additional questions about Brakle v. Cleveland Clinic Foundation, surprise billing, or other general healthcare issues.

[1] See American Medical Association High-Level Summary of the No Surprises Act (2020) https://osma.org/aws/OSMA/asset_manager/get_file/527681?ver=0

[2] Ohio Rev. Code § 1345.02(A).

[3] Ohio Admin. Code § 109:4-3-05, 07.

[4] Ohio Rev. Code § 1345.01(A).

[5] Id.

[6] Citing Chiropractic Clinic of Solon v. Kutsko, 92 Ohio App.3d 608, 611 (8th Dist. 1994).

[7] Brakle v. Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Journal Entry (Jan. 14, 2021), pg. 5., https://www.accountsrecovery.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/van-Brakle-v-Cleveland-Clinic.pdf.

Explosive Growth in Pot of Gold Opportunity for Bank (and Other) Cannabis Lenders Driving Erosion of the Barriers

Our original article on bank lending to the cannabis industry anticipated that the convergence of interest between banks and the cannabis industry would draw more and larger banks to the industry. Banks were awash in liquidity with limited deployment options, while bankable cannabis businesses had rapidly growing needs for more and lower cost credit. Since then, the pot of gold opportunity for banks to lend into the cannabis industry has grown exponentially due to a combination of market constraints on equity causing a dramatic shift to debt and the ever-increasing capital needs of one of the country’s fastest growing industries. At the same time, hurdles to entry of new banks are being systematically cleared as the yellow brick road to the cannabis industry’s access to the financial markets is being paved, brick by brick, by the progressively increasing number and size of banks that are now entering the market.

2021 EEOC Charge Statistics: Retaliation & Impact of Remote Work

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its detailed information on workplace discrimination charges it received in 2021. Unsurprisingly, for the second year in a row, the total number of charges decreased as COVID-19 either shut down workplaces or disconnected employees from each other. In 2021, the agency received a total of approximately 61,000 workplace discrimination charges - the fewest in 25 years by a wide margin. For reference, the agency received over 67,000 charges in 2020, and averaged almost 90,000 charges per year over the previous 10 years.

Ohio’s Managed Care Overhaul Delayed – New Implementation Timeline

At the direction of Governor Mike DeWine, the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) launched the Medicaid Managed Care Procurement process in 2019. ODM’s stated vision for the procurement was to focus on people and not just the business of managed care. This is the first structural change to Ohio’s managed care system since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) approval of Ohio’s Medicaid program in 2005. Initially, all of the new managed care programs were supposed to be implemented starting on July 1, 2022. However, ODM Director Maureen Corcoran recently confirmed that this date will be pushed back for several managed care-related programs.

Laboratory Specimen Collection Arrangements with Contract Hospitals - OIG Advisory Opinion 22-09

On April 28, 2022, the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) published an Advisory Opinion[1] in which it evaluated a proposed arrangement where a network of clinical laboratories (the “Requestor”) would compensate hospitals (each a “Contract Hospital”) for specimen collection, processing, and handling services (“Collection Services”) for laboratory tests furnished by the Requestor (the “Proposed Arrangement”). The OIG concluded that the Proposed Arrangement would generate prohibited remuneration under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”) if the requisite intent were present. This is due to both the possibility that the proposed per-patient-encounter fee would be used to induce or reward referrals to Requestor and the associated risk of improperly steering patients to Requestor.

Property Owner Protection from Tax Valuation Challenges

New legislation provides significant new protections for commercial property owners against challenges to valuation primarily by local school boards and prohibiting side agreements to avoid tax valuation changes. The Ohio Legislature has approved House Bill 126 which will go into effect July 2022 but will effectively apply to the 2023 tax valuation year.