A federal judge in Corpus Christi, Texas, last week dismissed a lawsuit that purported to be a legal test of Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.'s physician investment strategy.
U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon said the plaintiff, James Thompson, M.D., did not show that the nation's largest healthcare provider had violated Medicare anti-kickback statutes or the "Stark" laws. The latter prohibit physicians from referring patients to healthcare facilities, including hospital inpatient and outpatient services, in which they have a financial interest.
"We had said all along that we hadn't done anything wrong," said Don Stewart, who heads Columbia's system in Corpus Christi.
In certain Texas and Florida markets, Columbia has sold a 20% equity interest in its local healthcare system to physicians. Officials of the Nashville, Tenn.-based company say the arrangements meet state and federal laws and that the physicians are purchasing an interest in an entire system rather than a single service. Columbia contends that such arrangements make the system more efficient by aligning the financial incentives of physicians with the provider.
The judge also said the family practitioner failed to prove that Columbia had filed false claims. Thompson had alleged that 40% of Columbia's Medicare claims were for services that weren't medically necessary, according to court records.
The judge ruled that "Thompson's reliance on governmental statistics does not take the place of specific allegations" and that he failed to provide specific instances of false claims being filed.
Thompson's attorney did not return calls seeking comment.