Florida Attorney General’s Office clears Larkin Community Hospital after investigation into $150 COVID-19 tests

HIALEAH, FLA. (WSVN) - South Florida residents complained to the state about a hospital charging for coronavirus tests that were supposed to be free.

The results of the investigation are now in, and they’re not likely to please patients.

In March, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called out a Hialeah hospital and called for a price gouging investigation.

DeSantis said, “That is not acceptable here in the state of Florida.”

Residents filed complaints about Larkin Community Hospital charging $150 to get a COVID-19 test.

DeSantis said, “The president has made clear, the relief bill, the tests are free.”

Apparently, not always.

Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office has now cleared Larkin of wrongdoing, telling 7News after an “In-depth review of the facts, It appears that no violation of state or federal law has occurred.”

7News obtained a copy of the report detailing the reasons behind the state’s findings.

It says “Larkin publicly announced” the price.

An investigator wrote, “I had been following the news in Spanish television and had seen when Larkin Community hospital owner, Dr. Jack J. Michel, had made the announcement that Larkin would be offering the COVID-19 test for $150.”

Michel said, “Hopefully, this will alleviate the fears in the community as far as whether you have the disease or not.”

But as 7News first reported, the $150 cost was not disclosed in English or Spanish during a news conference called by the city of Hialeah to announce the drive-through testing location.

Michel admitted in a March phone interview that he failed to mention the cost of the tests.

A 7News producer said to Michael, “You guys had a whole news conference Friday, but nowhere did you guys talk about the $150 anywhere, I listened to the whole thing.”

Michel responded, “Well, I mean, I didn’t. I mean honestly, I don’t do press conferences, I’m not a politician. We just wanted to announce that the test was available.”

Michel defended the private hospital’s decision to charge but said, in retrospect, the cost should have been made clear.

Michel said, “Well, I mean, obviously, after I’m hearing the questions now I see that, and yes, I definitely would have. I think that in the future, I would have. It’s kind of lessons learned, right?”

7News asked the AG’s office where and when Larkin’s public announcement about the test price was made.

They told us their investigator did not recall where exactly he saw it.

The office has received 10 consumer complaints.

Norma Diaz, who paid $150 for a test, said back in April, “$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.”

The case closeout report says Larkin’s president purchased 45,000 COVID-19 collection kits for $483,750.

The investigator added the people he interviewed “were aware of the $150 cost and willing to pay it.”

Michel said his hospital has tested over 20,000 people.

Michel said he is proud the hospital is taking the lead in high volume COVID-19 testing.

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