Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson says a suburban chiropractic clinic fraudulently signed up patients for health care credit cards, and then charged them thousands of dollars for care they had not received or did not want.
Swanson announced a lawsuit today against the clinic, Express Health, P.A.
Swanson says Express Health is an especially egregious case that highlights a larger and increasing problem with health care credit cards, which are used by patients to pay for expenses not covered by insurance.
Her lawsuit alleges the chiropractic clinic, which has locations in Lakeville and Apple Valley, and its owner Cory Couillard, aggressively pushed CareCredit Credit Card enrollment on patients and completed some applications without consent.
The lawsuit also says the clinic sometimes inflated patient income in those applications. Swanson says the clinic then placed charges of up to $5,000 on patients' accounts without their knowledge.
"This is the health care version of subprime predatory mortgage lending," said Swanson. "Enrolling people in exploding interest credit cards. Not explaining the terms of those credit cards. Jeopardizing people's credit histories."
One patient, Lana Erickson of Edina, says she never wanted one of the health care credit cards, but was pushed into completing an application just to determine if she would pre-qualify.
She later received a credit card in the mail and discovered her account had already been charged $3,700 for 60 future office visits. Erickson says she hopes the lawsuit raises public awareness.
"I really got off lucky. It didn't affect my credit. I was able to get the money back," said Erickson. "But there were a lot of people here who were severely affected. And hopefully he doesn't have the opportunity to prey on other people."
No one from Express Health returned messages seeking comment.
The Minnesota Board of Chiropractic Examiners joined the state as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, which was filed in Dakota County District Court.
Executive Director Larry Spicer says he cannot discuss specifics about Cory Couillard. But Spicer says the board always takes an interest in allegations of providers exploiting patient trust.
"Our authority is essentially limited to the licensure of the doctor. So we, as a regulatory board, we do primarily two things. We license the providers, and then we enforce the laws," said Spicer. "When the laws are violated, we take whatever appropriate remedial action is necessary, up to and including suspension or revocation of the license."
In addition to the lawsuit, Swanson also announced a broader consumer alert about health credit cards. Her office has received complaints about other providers -- including dentists, cosmetic surgeons and weight loss programs -- that are also aggressively promoting the cards.
Swanson says patients should be wary of high-pressure sales pitches. She also warned that further investigation could lead to additional lawsuits.