Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. is pursuing a new legal strategy with the U.S. Justice Department in the hopes of fostering a quicker settlement of many of the hospital chain's legal woes, MODERN HEALTHCARE has learned.
Rather than trying to resolve all of the 26 pending civil whistleblower fraud cases against the Nashville-based chain through one global settlement, Columbia wants to resolve the common allegations in the cases through a series of smaller settlements with the government, sources familiar with the discussions said.
To date, the Justice Department has joined five of the eight unsealed lawsuits, which are pending in federal district courts around the country.
In its February 10Q filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Columbia reported that the lawsuits filed against it under the federal False Claims Act fall into five categories of alleged wrongdoing:
* Laboratory billings.
* DRG upcoding.
* Home healthcare operations.
* Kickbacks related to doc relationships.
* Medicare cost reporting.
Under the strategy Columbia is reportedly pursuing, those allegations would be extracted from all of the pending lawsuits and settled on an issue-by-issue basis.
Although Columbia and the Justice Department previously indicated their desire to settle all of the allegations in the lawsuits in one global settlement-for as much as $1 billion-that process has been long and costly. A special federal judicial panel in Washington rejected the first joint motion by Columbia and the government to consolidate the cases; a second motion is pending.
"If you can narrow the issues, you can really make substantial progress on many of the cases, so what's left is manageable from a financial exposure point of view," said Thomas Crane, a former attorney with HHS' inspector general's office now with the Boston office of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo.
Columbia spokesman Jeff Prescott acknowledged that negotiations are proceeding "based on those five categories. They're being discussed by category, but whether they'll be settled by category, I can't go into that kind of detail yet."