Doctors at a suburban New Orleans hospital filed a $100 million (euro73.5 million) lawsuit against the state Monday, seeking compensation for treating indigent patients who normally would have been seen at a state hospital that was closed after Hurricane Katrina.
In their lawsuit, 381 physicians at the suburban West Jefferson Medical Center fault the state for failing to reimburse them for treating poor and uninsured patients since the Aug. 29, 2005, hurricane closed the state-funded Charity Hospital in New Orleans.
The lawsuit is believed to be the first of its kind filed by Louisiana physicians since the hospital was closed.
"This is severely straining our area emergency rooms, and the lack of proper outpatient care is harming these patients," said K. Barton Farris, medical director of the Jefferson Parish hospital's laboratory.
Last year, the state Department of Health and Hospitals set aside about $120 million (euro88.2 million) statewide to care for indigent and uninsured patients, but that money goes to hospitals and not to physicians' private practices, according to Farris.
Robert Johannessen, a spokesman for the health and hospitals department, said he cannot comment on pending litigation.
Farris estimates that 30 percent of the patients admitted to the medical center's emergency room after the hurricane were poor or uninsured. Outside the emergency room, the uninsured account for 13 percent of the hospital's patients _ up from 5.4 percent before Katrina, according to Farris.
Farris said the hospital's increased workload is driving away many young physicians and making it difficult for the medical center to recruit new doctors.
A recent study by Louisiana State University's Public Policy Research Lab found that the state had 657,027 uninsured residents as of fall 2006.
Earlier this month, a consultant hired by Gov. Kathleen Blanco's administration recommended replacing Charity Hospital with a new $1.2 billion (euro880 million) LSU hospital in New Orleans. Federal funding would account for about $400 million of the cost of building that 484-bed hospital.