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A judge has approved an agreement by Tenet Healthcare Corp. to settle a class action lawsuit accusing its hospitals of overcharging uninsured and underinsured patients, a lawyer said Tuesday. The settlement covers plaintiffs in California and eight other states — Texas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Florida, Alabama and Louisiana. Those who received treatment at Tenet-run hospitals between June 15, 1999, and Dec. 31, 2004, will be eligible for restitution, said attorney Steve Berman, who represented the plaintiffs. Dallas-based Tenet also agreed not to charge uninsured patients a managed care rate at any of the hospitals it runs in 19 states for a four-year period. Tenet and its subsidiaries did not acknowledge any wrongdoing. Calls to the company after hours were not immediately returned Tuesday. Some 32,000 claims already have been submitted in the case, according to documents filed with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Wendell Mortimer Jr., who approved the settlement Monday. Berman said he projects the number of claims to reach 50,000 by Jan. 11, the deadline for filing a restitution claim. Instructions on how to file a claim have been sent to some 2.5 million Tenet patients, he said. Under the agreement, which was first disclosed in March, Tenet agreed to provide financial counseling to uninsured patients, including help in understanding and applying for governmental financial assistance and charity care programs. Tenet said it would follow a uniform credit and collection policy, including a commitment not to pursue legal action for nonpayment of bills against unemployed patients or to place a lien on a patient’s home. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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