Volume 11 | March 2021

A few weeks ago we were outraged after reading a New York Times article about hospitals that are getting rich at the expense of car accident patients. And we're not the only ones — the February 1 article by reporters Sarah Kliff and Jessica Silver-Greenberg has garnered over 600 reader comments.

At Jainchill & Beckert we have seen many of our own clients confused and often misled about medical bills, so we're sharing the Times' story and our advice on how to avoid falling for this.

In our very first Legal Ease that ran last March, one of our stories was on Connecticut's attempts at legalizing marijuana. The legislation is back in the spotlight — Governor Lamont recently released a 163-page bill and we've included some of the highlights.

And in honor of our newsletter's first anniversary, we're asking you for your feedback. Please let us know if you have a question or if there's an area of the law you'd like us to cover.

All the best,
Aaron and Bill

Attorneys at Law
Jainchill & Beckert, LLC
Personal Injury | Criminal Defense | Workers' Comp
"We are fighters who work to ensure that our clients are informed and empowered, so that we can achieve an outcome that provides peace of mind."
How Hospitals Are Getting Rich Off of Patients in Car Accidents
Imagine you’re in a car accident that wasn’t your fault. When you arrive at the hospital, you present your insurance card, but the hospital tells you it can defer billing until after you receive payment from the other party’s insurance. Because you weren’t at fault, that sounds like a pretty good option. You think: “I don’t have to pay anything now, and my premium won’t be affected.” You sign some papers and get treated for injuries. 
However, months later you receive a bill from the hospital for a whopping $34,106. As it turns out, one of the papers you signed was a waiver that gave the hospital permission to pursue a lien. 

This is what happened to a patient in Oklahoma who was involved in a car accident in which the patient’s head hit the windshield. According to the New York Times article, “How Rich Hospitals Profit from Patients in Car Crashes,” this Oklahoma hospital is one of many that have quietly used century-old hospital lien laws to increase revenue, often at the expense of low-income people. By using liens — a claim on an asset, such as a home or a settlement payment, to make sure someone repays a debt — hospitals can collect on money that otherwise would have gone to the patient to compensate for pain and suffering. 

“The way they are spinning it is, you don’t want to use your health insurance because someone else caused this,” said Loren Toombs, an Oklahoma trial lawyer who represented the patient. “It’s clearly a business tactic and a huge issue, but it’s not always illegal.” 

A document in a 2014 litigation showed that a hospital in Washington State generated $10 million annually from this practice. 

Misleading patients 
And sometimes patients think their insurance companies are being billed when they’re not. 

When Monica Smith, of Garrett, Indiana, was badly hurt in a car accident, she assumed Medicaid would cover the medical bills. Smith provided her insurance card after an ambulance took her to Parkview Regional Medical Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She spent three days in the hospital and weeks after in a neck brace. 

But the hospital never sent her bills to Medicaid, which would have paid for the care in full. Instead, it pursued an amount five times higher from Smith directly by placing a lien on her accident settlement. 

The bills that Medicaid would have paid would have been $2,856. But that amount swelled to $12,856 when the hospital pursued a lien from Smith. 

“It’s astounding to think Medicaid patients would have been charged the full-billed price,” said Christopher Whaley, a health economist at the RAND Corporation who studies hospital pricing. “It’s absolutely unbelievable.” 

Targeting the vulnerable  
In states with lenient hospital lien laws, some hospitals take advantage in ways that hurt patients.

In 2019, when veteran Jeremy Greenbaum went to one of Community Health Systems’ hospitals in Tennessee after a car crash, it didn't bill Medicare or his veterans’ health insurance. Instead, the hospital filed liens for the full price of his care. 

“I could cut off a finger and the V.A. would cover it,” Greenbaum said. “The insurance is just that good.” He is now part of a lawsuit against the hospital for its greedy lien practices. 

Said a spokeswoman for Tennova, “Tennessee state law allows hospitals to file provider liens as a way to ensure that health care providers can be paid for treatment.” 

Dennis Denson was treated at a WellStar hospital for his injuries after a car accident three years ago. Denson said he presented his health insurance card immediately upon entering the emergency room but that his insurance company was never billed. The hospital placed a $13,469 lien against his auto accident settlement. 

A spokeswoman for WellStar said the hospital uses liens only when patients don’t provide coverage. Denson insisted he did have his insurance card at the emergency room, but the hospital says it was not given until more than a year after the accident.

Denson not only had to deal with the physical pain and recovery of the accident but also the subsequent bills that have caused him to go into debt. “I really feel angry,” Denson said. “You are going into a fight with the hospital that you don’t know the rules of."

We are grateful the New York Times published this important investigation. For the full story, see "How Rich Hospitals Profit From Patients in Car Crashes" by Sarah Kliff and Jessica Silver-Greenberg. (The New York Times, Feb. 1, 2021).
Car Accidents: What You Need to Know
When you’re in an accident, one of the first thoughts that comes to your mind is likely: “Who was at fault?” And when you’re not at fault, it’s reasonable to expect the person who was at fault to pay your medical bills, expenses and your time missed from work. 

But that’s not how it works as Attorney Beckert explains in this 1-minute video.
Connecticut’s Latest Attempts to Legalize Recreational Marijuana 
Gov. Ned Lamont is pitching legalized recreational marijuana as a way to raise revenue in the state and end racial disparities in prosecutions. 

Lawmakers recently heard testimony from many supporters and opponents on Lamont’s 163-page bill. Similar legalization actions have been pushed in the past but have failed to acquire enough support.

But Lamont believes the bill will pass this year, and if it does, sales would begin in May 2022. The governor said during a recent news conference that he believes now is the time for legalized adult-use recreational marijuana in a carefully regulated way, with an emphasis on equity and justice.

“Massachusetts dispensaries are advertising extensively here in Connecticut,” Lamont said. “Rather than surrender this market to out-of-staters, or worse, to the unregulated underground market, our budget provides for the legalization of recreational marijuana.”

A look at some of the bill’s components: 

  1. Adults 21 and older would be permitted to possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana.
  2. Marijuana would be subject to various taxes, and half of the money raised by an excise tax on sales would be set aside for municipal aid to help distressed cities and towns. The remainder of the money would go toward the state’s general fund.
  3. It’s estimated that $26.8 million would be raised by the 2026 budget year. 
  4. Those convicted of low-level marijuana possession offenses prior to Oct. 1, 2015, will have their convictions expunged (automatically erased). People convicted after that date can petition the courts to have their records erased. 
  5. Steps will be taken to prevent minors from purchasing: Advertising would not be permitted within 500 feet of a school and in any media where more than 10% of its audience are minors. There would be $1,000 fines for businesses who sell to minors. 
  6. A top concern is that police officers do not have a roadside test to prove that a driver is under the influence of marijuana. The bill addresses this by stating it is illegal to consume marijuana while driving or as a passenger in a car, and the budget calls for $1 million in each of the next two years for increased training and certification for drug recognition experts. 

Opponents are still not appeased 
It sounds like many of the lawmakers who have concerns about Lamont’s bill are in support of the legalization but think the details need improvement. 

House Republican leader Vincent Candelora (R-North Branford) listed some of his top concerns at the public hearing. They include the high THC levels typically found in commercialized marijuana, which could be as high as 30% (compared to the 3-4% in the typical weed many Baby Boomers smoked in college), and the high tax, which he believes could lead to increased activity on the black market.

Candelora also said the bill tries to do too much. “Generally speaking, we’re talking about the regulation of an illicit product,” he said. “There are pieces addressing equity, pieces addressing labor, pieces addressing municipal funding. ... The bottom line is that it has strayed so far away from the underlying intent of the bill. It’s gotten a lot of people both interested in the bill and upset over the way it’s written.”

Connecticut state police leader is in support
The leader of the Connecticut State Police, James C. Rovella, is among the supporters. Rovella said he is in support of the legalization because the state intends to spend more than $2 million over two years to train troopers in enforcement. 

“This bill’s full support for law enforcement training and testing of impaired driving is one of the important reasons I stand behind it,” said Rovella.

Rovella, the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner, has broken with Connecticut local police chiefs who oppose marijuana legalization. The chiefs say that the biggest problem is officers do not have a roadside test to prove that a driver is under the influence of marijuana. 

Seeing both sides
At Jainchill & Beckert we see value in the legalization of recreational marijuana, including the prospect for revenue for the state and municipalities, getting it off the black market and the governor’s focus on equity. But we also understand the concerns. Considering Attorney Jainchill and Attorney Beckert have handled thousands of car accident cases over their combined 50 years of experience, we think the concern over driver safety is a valid one and it needs to be addressed thoroughly. Needless to say, we will be watching this legislation closely. 

Source: The Hartford Courant
Connecticut Pop Quiz: 
What is Plainville Famous for?
Besides being known for its annual Hot Air Balloon festival each August, Plainville is also home of the oldest airport in the state — Robertson Field. In fact, Plainville has the reputation of being a minor transportation hub and has been referred to as the “Crossroads of Connecticut."

Robertson Field (often called Robertson Airport) opened in 1911. Today it is a general aviator airport providing business, private, recreational and emergency aviator services to Plainville and its surrounding communities. 

John H. Trumbull, a Plainville native and Connecticut governor from 1925–1931, is known to have used the airfield extensively and he was dubbed "The Flying Governor."

Source: PlainvilleCT.com
Personal Injury • Criminal Defense • Workers' Comp
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Plainville, CT 06062
Phone: 860-351-3552
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