The U.S. attorney's office in Tampa, Fla., has completed its criminal investigation of HCA, Nashville, a development that should speed resolution of the longstanding Medicare cost-report fraud suits against the company.
The announcement was made in the monthly status report released yesterday by the U.S. Justice Department, which updates parties in ongoing multi-district litigation involving 30 civil whistleblower lawsuits against HCA.
Most of those suits were resolved or dismissed as part of an $840 million settlement of civil and criminal charges against HCA, reached between the company and the government in 2000. The government has intervened in eight remaining civil lawsuits, which allege kickbacks for referrals and fraud in wound care and cost reporting. The criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney's office in Tampa concerned individuals. At deadline, it was unknown if charges would result, but an HCA spokesman said the company believes the matter is at an end.
Whistleblowers, as well as HCA, greeted the announcement as a step forward. Earlier this year, HCA blocked prosecutors and plaintiffs from deposing 76 current or former HCA employees, saying depositions in the civil cases might hurt the employees in potential criminal prosecutions later.
San Francisco attorney Stephen Meagher, who represents two whistleblowers, including one whose case dates back to 1993, said the logjam in the civil cases now should break. "It's hard to litigate a case when you can't get your hands on any witnesses," Meagher said.
HCA spokesman Jeffrey Prescott said the company is relieved current and former employees won't face criminal prosecution. "We see this as a positive," Prescott said. "This allows these folks to be deposed and their stories need to be out there. Now we can stop focusing on the criminal charges and concentrate on resolving the civil issues."
A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment, and officials with the U.S. attorney's office in Tampa could not be reached for comment at deadline.