Larkin Community Hospital price gouging investigation gaining steam

HIALEAH, FLA. (WSVN) - The state of Florida is continuing to investigate Larkin Community Hospital for price gouging.

In March, Congress passed and President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides free coronavirus testing regardless of anyone’s economic status or health coverage.

Norma Diaz, who paid $150 for her test, said, “I explained to them that the President has signed a bill, that the testing for the virus was going to be free.”

But for her, getting the test wasn’t free.

The hospital in Hialeah required that she pay $150 dollars by credit card before even showing up for the test.

“$150 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,” she said.

Diaz is a cancer survivor and suffers from other health conditions.

“I have a very low immune system, I’m always sick,” she said. “I was concerned, I was coughing, and I am already a COPD patient.”

Thankfully, Diaz tested negative for the coronavirus, but said the hospital never responded to her about why she had to pay. So she went straight to the top.

“When I sent my complaint to Gov. DeSantis, because I sent it to his office, they came back to me and said they were going to further investigate,” Diaz said.

“I’m going to ask Attorney General Moody to immediately investigate this hospital for price gouging. That is not acceptable in the state of Florida,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

As 7News first revealed in March, Larkin’s president Jack Michel did not disclose the cost of the test at a news conference announcing the testing program. But in a phone interview, he defended the hospital’s decision.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people that want to pay and that can pay,” Michel said. “People are happy. A lot of people are very happy to pay, and I haven’t seen… I mean, obviously people are told ahead of time, so they know that this is a specific service. This is not really a hospital service. This is a laboratory service.”

One copy of the complaints to the Attorney General says in part, “I’m a nurse who 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” and said, “They have seen hundreds of patients and should be ashamed of themselves for charging poor people who don’t make enough money or basically lost their jobs.”

Diaz agreed, saying, “$150 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 isn’t the first time Larkin Community Hospital has been investigated.

In 2006, the hospital, Michel and others paid over $15 million to settle a healthcare fraud civil case.

Michel was also the owner of a rehab center in Hollywood Hills that saw 12 deaths in 2017 after the air conditioning system lost power after Hurricane Irma.

Four of the nursing home employees now face criminal charges.

Michel wasn’t charged with a crime, but civil charges against him, the facility and others still remain.

Larkin’s website now says there a cash price for COVID-19 testing at the hospital.

Attorney General Moody said the hospital is cooperating with the investigation.

Michel declined 7News’ request for an interview, saying, “Busy saving lives, no time for your stories.”

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