3 Million Plaintiffs in Huge Healthcare Class Action
Early this week in Sacramento, California, news was released about a gigantic class action lawsuit that was taking place in the area, where over 3 million individuals joined up as plaintiffs in order to sue a healthcare system in Northern California for $1.2 billion. This huge antitrust class action will begin on Thursday, Feb 10, 2022. The gist is that the plaintiffs in this lawsuit allege that a variety of documents released by the company in question, Sutter Health, were abused and even forged and that such actions had adverse economic impacts for a lot of individuals and also employers. The intent claimed by the plaintiffs is that Sutter Health abused these documents in order to lie to people so that they would not go out and seek lower price insurance or lower priced hospitals. The end result, as put forth by the plaintiffs, is that Sutter Health caused millions of people to spend more money on healthcare than they should have.
This isn't fraud or negligence; this is an antitrust suit. Basically, this is going to be harder for the plaintiffs to prove in court; because even if they can prove that some documents were doctored, they still have to prove that these documents were doctored with the intent of urging people to spend more on insurance and health services, when in reality it could be argued from Sutter Health's end that it was just a bad-seed employee who waxed up the works. That's why these antitrust cases are always a bit harder to litigate for the plaintiffs, and it's also why they're not suing for an obscene amount of money. With over 3 million people and a billion-dollar potential payout, that's well less than a thousand dollars per plaintiff, especially after the lawyers take their percentage.
Precedent and Justice Over Reward
The precedent here is what's more important for a lot of people involved. It is alleged that Sutter Health used its position and power for inpatient services in rural Northern California areas where it didn't have competition, and thus was able to bind insurers. The end result in such a case of funneling business to themselves, this allowed Sutter to overcharge for the services they were providing. It is alleged that between 2011 and 2017, Sutter rang up over $400 million in insurance premiums from patients, by creating a system where the patients' insurance wouldn't let them seek another hospital.
The $1.2 billion potential settlement wasn't requested by the plaintiffs. This is California's law, which only allows for three-times the damages. That it happens to be so many plaintiffs is just bad luck for anyone hoping to recoup their money. Thus as it stands, this is set to be more of a precedent case than a payout case, where the plaintiffs and their counsel hope to see justice served so that these things don't happen to anyone else.
Antitrust Verdicts Sting
The good news for the people of California if Sutter Health loses this case and is found guilty of antitrust, is the fact that Californian law and its citizens in general definitely remember these things about companies. Unless you're a tech giant in Silicon Valley, the state government will hammer you on antitrust issues, and the citizens will refuse to use your service. A potential $1.2 billion will not break Sutter and may not even phase them at all financially. However, the word that they're scamming patients may cause them to cripple and fold up entirely, and this is what a lot of the plaintiffs are truly hoping for. Some of the plaintiffs in the case have claimed that it's not about the money at all but rather about ensuring that these sorts of practices are exiled entirely from California.
Sutter Health is far from the first healthcare provider to be facing charges of antitrust. The truth be told, it's a regular occurrence in the nation, but the Sutter Healths of the world typically win because they have a lot more money for lawyers, and they can keep delaying and pushing it down the road, whereas the plaintiffs in this case don't have years to wait because they have lives to live. So the current system of civil litigation certainly favors these larger corporations, but that also doesn't mean they always win.
Sutter Health losing this case will send shock-waves through a lot of different healthcare providers in the area, and it may spur serious change.