Hospital Sues Nonprofit Leader

The Rev. Steve Braddock, president and CEO of Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, has spent decades advocating for the homeless, the poor and the elderly facing various indignities. 

Now, he is due before circuit Judge Wayne Miller on Aug. 4 to answer a small-claims suit that he says is an example of the aggressive and questionable billing practices by Lower Keys Medical Center, owned by Community Health Systems, which this month was reported to own 25 of 50 hospitals that charge at least 10 times over Medicare-allowed costs. 

“I can advocate for myself,” said Braddock, who plans to represent himself at the circuit court. “I have both the ability to pay this and I have the ability to pay for legal counsel if I need it. But there are a whole lot of people in this community who don’t and I think they’re being victimized.”

On Dec. 26, 2013, Braddock underwent shoulder surgery at Lower Keys Medical Center, the only hospital within 50 miles of his Key West home. The procedure went well, he said.

His insurance company received a bill from the hospital totaling $62,527.42. 

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida ended up paying $36,141.59, according to Braddock’s medical records, which he shared Thursday, along with the civil lawsuit he is facing over a $1,975 bill.

Braddock said he has made payments to the hospital as a show of good faith, as he calls it. But he won’t budge until he gets the itemized bill he’s been requesting for almost 1 1/2 years. 

According to a review of the county clerk of courts’ online records, Braddock, 51, president and CEO of the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, has joined a club of sorts when it comes to being sued for small claims by the hospital. 

Braddock is among 26 defendants in 2015 brought to small-claims court by Lower Keys Medical Center, which is listed as Key West HMA in court records. Community Health Systems absorbed HMA when it bought the Key West hospital a year ago as part of a $7 billion deal. 

Each of the 26 cases is for between $500 and $2,499.99. There are an additional 14 cases for small claims between $2,500 and $5,000 filed this year in the county court. Between October 2013 and January 2014, the hospital filed seven small-claims cases seeking between $100 and $499. 

In 2012, Lower Keys Medical Center charged six times what the government-subsidized insurance deems appropriate, according to a study released in June by professors Gerard F. Anderson of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Ge Bai of Washington and Lee University.

In response to the study, “Extreme Markup,” local hospital administrators say the calculations are misleading because they don’t take into account the millions hospitals provide as charity for patients without the means to pay for treatment.

“Most of what patients pay is a percentage of charges, or the insurance companies all have negotiated rates with the hospitals,” hospital CEO Nicki Will said Thursday.

Since February 2014, Braddock has been waiting for Lower Keys Medical Center to provide him with a detailed invoice of what the hospital’s billers told him he still owes to settle up the surgery costs.

The first statement arrived in the mail that month, informing Braddock that his share of the surgery costs added up to $3,875.96. 

In response, Braddock typed up a request for an invoice so he could double-check the charges before making payment. He mailed it to the Atlanta address on his hospital bill. 

Bills demanding payment kept coming. Braddock began sending $200 checks. “I went ahead and made good-faith payments,” he said. 

The summons Braddock received is from a Cocoa, Florida law firm, Vance, Lotane & Bookhardt, on behalf of the hospital. The bills, though, come from a post office box address in Atlanta. 

In a June 16, 2014 statement, Lower Keys Medical Center once again thanked Braddock for choosing the hospital for his healthcare needs, adding this time, “We would like to remind you that your monthly payment is now due. Please continue to make your payment of $200.”

Braddock said, “I never made an agreement to make payments.”

As of this week, Braddock said he has sent six written requests and made 11 payments of $200 each. He stopped the $200 checks in December 2014, a year after the surgery, telling the hospital in writing that he had paid half of what they had billed.

“I will not remit any further payments until I receive the detailed, itemized documentation for the services rendered,” Braddock wrote. “Your total lack of attention to this matter is unacceptable!”

Asked why Braddock can’t get an itemized bill, Will said she would have to research the matter and couldn’t comment Thursday.

On June 9, Braddock was eating dinner at his home when the doorbell rang. A process server, who he has known for years, handed him a court summons. 

“I’ve had clients and families I’ve advocated for because of problems with LKMC’s billing and I’ve been able to resolve it and get the detailed information,” Braddock said. 

Braddock added he has never not paid a legitimate debt and has a pristine credit history. “I have never even been late for a payment,” he said. “If this dings my credit I will consider a countersuit.”

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