Taking a hint from some of its hospitals, the top brass at Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. is making a point of collecting overdue rent from physicians.
Some hospitals' chief executive officers had been trying to collect rent from physicians for months. But those who haven't been as diligent will have Columbia's senior managers driving them to do so.
In his regular Monday conference call with hospital CEOs last week, Columbia President Jack Bovender demanded collection of overdue money and set up a five-person team to oversee the process.
The federal anti-kickback statute prohibits hospitals from using financial incentives to induce patient referrals from physicians.
The March 9 edition of Medicare Compliance Alert, a newsletter published by Rockville, Md.-based United Communications Group, reported that some Columbia hospitals neglected to bill physicians for rented space for up to two years.
Letters from Columbia hospital CEOs were sent to physicians in Florida, Georgia and Texas from March 1997 to May 1997-shortly after the federal government kicked off a massive probe of the company with a raid on its El Paso, Texas, operations, the newsletter reported.
The letters sought between $70,000 and $400,000 in overdue rent, the newsletter reported.
Columbia officials could not confirm that those letters were sent or which hospitals were involved.
Columbia spokesman Jeff Prescott told MODERN HEALTHCARE*that the company is conducting a sweeping search for any impropriety in its physician relationships at all its hospitals.
"It's part of our action plan that was announced in August," he said. "We're seeing (local) people take actions on things they've started to see at their hospitals. It's not a new issue by any stretch."
Columbia ethics czar Alan Yuspeh said the five-person enforcement team will consist of "the senior leadership of the corporation."
"This (collection of rent) is normally the responsibility of the hospital CEO," Yuspeh said. "We would have assumed that the people who made these (lease) arrangements would have enforced them."