Calif. settles billing lawsuit with provider

California regulators have reached a $1.2 million settlement with a hospital system accused of unfairly billing HMO patients for services not covered by their insurers.

The Department of Managed Health Care says Prime Healthcare Services improperly billed for emergency room visits at its Southern California hospitals.

Department director Cindy Ehnes says the practice of balance billing can put consumers at risk of unfair, limitless billing from health care providers.

Half the settlement announced Monday will go to Prime's charity foundation, and six clinics will split the rest evenly.

A message left with Prime was not immediately returned.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.