(WSVN) - The state is investigating a South Florida hospital for price gouging after 7News revealed they were charging $150 for COVID-19 tests. Now we are hearing from angry patients who have taken their frustrations to Florida’s attorney general. 7’s Brian Entin investigates.
In March, Congress passed, and President Donald Trump signed, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
The White House made clear: “The act provides free coronavirus diagnostic testing for the American people, regardless of their economic circumstances or health coverage.”
Norma Diaz, paid $150 for COVID-19 test: “I explained to them that the president has signed a bill that the testing for the coronavirus was going to be free.”
But for Norma Diaz, getting a COVID-19 test was not free. Larkin Community Hospital in Hialeah required she pay $150 by credit card before even showing up to their drive-thru testing site.
Norma Diaz: “A hundred and fifty dollars for me is groceries for the entire month, so imagine that. I paid it because it was my health versus my groceries. So, to me, I had to keep my health.”
Norma is a cancer survivor and suffers from other health conditions.
Norma Diaz: “I have a very low immune system. I’m always sick. I was concerned. I was coughing, and I already am a COPD patient.”
Thankfully, Norma tested negative, but says the hospital never responded to her about why she had to pay.
So she went straight to the top.
Norma Diaz: “When I sent my complaint to Governor DeSantis — because I sent it to his office — you know, they came back to me and said that they were going to further investigate.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis, March 27: “I’m going to ask Attorney General Moody to immediately investigate this hospital for price gouging. That is not acceptable here in the state of Florida.”
As 7News first revealed last month, Larkin’s president, Dr. Jack Michel, did not disclose the $150 cost at a news conference announcing the testing program.
But in a phone interview, he defended the decision to charge.
Dr. Jack Michel, March 24 phone interview: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people that want to pay, and that can pay. People are happy, a lot of people are very happy to pay.”
We have now obtained copies of the complaints filed with Florida’s attorney general.
In one, a healthcare worker wrote: “I am a nurse, and I was charged $150 for a COVID-19 test. On top of that, I did not receive results for seven days. I had to miss an entire week of work waiting for results.”
Another resident called it “disgusting,” adding: “They have seen hundreds of patients and should be ashamed of themselves for charging poor people who don’t even make enough money or basically lost their jobs.”
Norma Diaz: “A hundred and fifty dollars just for me, but multiply that by the amount of seniors that live on a fixed income that he has charged. That’s big.”
This is not the first time Larkin Community Hospital has been under investigation. In 2006, the hospital, Dr. Jack Michel and others paid more than $15 million to settle a healthcare fraud civil case.
Michel was also the owner of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. In 2017, 12 people died when the nursing home’s air conditioning system lost power after Hurricane Irma.
Four of the nursing home employees now face criminal charges.
Michel was not charged with a crime, but civil lawsuits against him, the facility and others continue to this day.
Meanwhile, Larkin’s website now says there is a “cash price” for a COVID-19 test here. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody says the hospital is cooperating with the investigation.
Dr. Michel declined our request for an interview, saying, “Busy saving lives. No time for your stories.”
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