She points to another recent case in which California-based Prime Healthcare Services, which operates 16 hospitals in four states, was ordered to pay $275,000 to the federal Office of Civil Rights as punishment for disclosing protected health information of a patient to the media.
In 2011, California Watch took on Prime hospital Shasta Regional Medical Center (SRMC) saying the 246-bed hospital in Redding, CA billed Medicare under an expensive code for kwashiorkor, a wasting condition usually found among starving children in tropical climates.
The CW report identified Darlene Courtois, 64, who was in fact extremely overweight, as one of more than 1,030 kwashiorkor cases Shasta Regional billed Medicare.
In an effort to defend itself, Prime shared Courtois' entire medical chart with a newspaper editor and another newspaper's columnist, without Courtois' permission. Prime executives contended that by agreeing to have her story told by California Watch, she waived her medical privacy.
Not so, Knutson says. At least not according to the federal government.