Northwell Hospitals Penalized for Charges on Covid-19 Tests

Attorney General Letitia James secured $1 million from Northwell Health, for deceptive advertising for Covid-19 testing sites.

The office said that three Northwell hospitals–Huntington, Lenox Hill Hospital and Lenox Hill Greenwich–advertised the tests as free but then charged patients for use of their emergency rooms.

“Northwell has cooperated fully with the Office of the New York State Attorney General throughout this investigation and voluntarily entered an agreement to settle the matter without admitting to any wrongdoing. We look forward to continuing our mission of delivering the highest-quality care to the communities we serve,” a Northwell spokeswoman said.

Northwell Health has issued over $400,000 in refunds to 2,048 patients, must pay a $650,000 penalty, and must notify future patients seeking COVID-19 testing at emergency rooms that they will be billed for emergency department charges, the office said.

“During a time of great stress at the height of the pandemic, Northwell Health caused more worry and frustration for New Yorkers who were sent emergency room bills for simply taking a COVID-19 test,” James said. “Today we are putting money back in New Yorkers’ pockets after Northwell Health misled them. New York patients should not get surprise fees, and I encourage anyone who thinks they’ve been taken advantage of through deceptive advertising to file a complaint with my office.”

The office found that some patients who took a COVID-19 test at Huntington Hospital’s drive-through were billed for emergency room visits.

Northwell added, “In the first year of  the pandemic, when patients often faced challenges obtaining COVID-19 testing, three of Northwell’s emergency departments posted public-facing signs indicating the availability of COVID-19 testing services. At each of these three locations, patients were able to receive emergency department services above and beyond those offered at standalone COVID-19 testing sites, including triage services and medical evaluation by a licensed emergency department clinician. These locations also posted signage, written consent forms and other messaging intended to advise patients upfront that they would receive services as emergency department patients.

“Northwell also implemented broad billing controls that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, succeeded in preventing patients from being billed for COVID-19 testing and related services, including patients for whom Northwell was entitled to collect out-of-pocket payments because they received additional services unrelated to COVID-19 testing and evaluation. This resulted in Northwell foregoing collection of payments from patients to which it would have been entitled in numerous instances.

“In the extremely limited instances when patients who sought COVID-19 testing at these three locations did make out-of-pocket payments, all those amounts, totaling $81,761.46, were voluntarily refunded. Out of an abundance of caution, Northwell also voluntarily issued refunds to many patients who received additional services unrelated to COVID-19 testing and evaluation, from whom Northwell was entitled to collect payment, totaling $318,402.83.

“Northwell is proud of our unwavering commitment to the communities we have served throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, starting with the heroic efforts of our front-line providers in responding to the unprecedented demands placed on hospitals during this global crisis.”

While state and federal laws prohibited health plans from charging any type of cost sharing for COVID-19 tests and related services, OAG found that Northwell Health collected $81,761.46 in out-of-pocket payments from 559 New Yorkers for COVID-19 tests and related services received at emergency departments. Other New Yorkers who visited the ER for other reasons were also charged for COVID-19 tests that were administered.

If a patient believes they have been a victim of misleading billing practices, they should contact the OAG Health Care Bureau online or call 1-800-428-9071.

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