MultiCare Health System has conceded that a former executive allowed his home address to be used to register an out-of-state notary public, but the regional health care giant disputes that the concession is important in two lawsuits it’s fighting.
The admission was made during a routine exchange of information between MultiCare attorneys and those representing six people suing it and a contractor over their use of so-called medical liens.
The liens are allowed under Washington statute to ensure medical providers are paid for services rendered.
MultiCare spokeswoman Marce Edwards downplayed the admission concerning the notary public.
“This filing is part of an ongoing lawsuit and contains no new information,” she said in an interview last week. “We are investigating the situation, and we will be addressing this through the appropriate legal process. The employee in question no longer works at MultiCare.”
A lawyer representing Hunter Donaldson, a California-based collection agency that does work for MultiCare, said his firm does not concede it did anything wrong.
“That needs to be litigated in court,” said Thomas Boeder of the firm Perkins Coie in Seattle.
But the plaintiffs’ attorney, Darrell Cochran, said the admission is a boost to his clients’ case and will allow him to go into court later this month and argue that the medical liens filed against his clients should be declared invalid.
The dispute is over a section of Washington law that allows some medical providers, including doctors and hospitals, to place a lien against money an accident victim might get from successfully suing or settling with the person responsible for his or her injuries.
The plaintiffs say MultiCare and Hunter Donaldson, which MultiCare hired to manage its third-party collections, conspired to use the law to unfairly enrich themselves.
MultiCare stands to gain more money by using liens to recoup its costs from money its patients obtain through a lawsuit or settlement than it does from billing insurance, Cochran said.
Such practices often leave accident victims with no money once they pay their medical bills, even if they gained cash for pain and suffering and other costs, he said.
Cochran has argued in court pleadings that potentially hundreds of medical liens notarized by Hunter Donaldson employee Rebecca Rohlke are invalid because she applied for a Washington state notary public license with an address other than her own.
He has sought class-action status for the case, but a judge has not granted it.
The plaintiffs contend MultiCare employees, including former executive Jason Adams, conspired “to provide false residency information for and falsely endorse” Rohlke’s application.
The plaintiffs, accident victims who sought treatment at a MultiCare facility, further contend that MultiCare and Hunter Donaldson used the invalid liens to inappropriately collect money from them.
MultiCare conceded last month, in an answer to the plaintiffs’ request for information, that Adams allowed Rohlke to use his address on her application for a Washington notary license.
In answering a questionnaire prepared by Cochran, MultiCare’s lawyers wrote, “Admit that Mr. Adams endorsed Ms. Rohlke’s application for a notary public appointment knowing that she was not a resident at his home.”
MultiCare insisted in a statement provided to The News Tribune that the notary issue is overblown.
“MultiCare regrets that its former employee appears to have used poor judgment in allowing Rohlke to use his Gig Harbor home address as a contact address on her notary application, which was discovered by MultiCare only when this lawsuit was filed,” according to the statement.
“The real issue in this case is whether the liens which were filed provided adequate notice to the insurance companies and other third parties that MultiCare’s medical expenses were unpaid.
“To date, no one has disputed that MultiCare provided care to our patients, and we are not aware of any insurance company or other third party who denies that they had actual notice of our claim.”
Boeder also said the dispute over the notary is overblown.
“The rhetoric of the other side far exceeds what can be supported by the facts,” he said. “The liens are valid.”
Even if a judge declares otherwise, Boeder said, MultiCare and Hunter Donaldson would just refile the liens using a different notary.
The fact remains that Cochran’s clients received treatment at MultiCare and have outstanding medical bills as a result, he said.
“The bottom line is the patients owe a bill,” Boeder said. “The purpose of the liens is to get a portion of the bill paid by the third party.”
Cochran said the defendants are just plain wrong.
“The vast majority of the claims are over 1 year old and, under the medical care lien statute, MultiCare had to have filed and continued refiling valid liens,” he said. “For every patient with treatment over a year ago, MultiCare will have to disgorge the ill-gotten gain.”
Hearings in the case are scheduled for Friday.
Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644