Medicare suit to proceed
* A $1 billion Medicare fraud lawsuit against Allina Hospitals and Clinics, Minneapolis, can proceed after the Supreme Court's refusal last week to consider Allina's appeal on its motion to dismiss the case. The 8-year-old suit filed by the Minnesota Association of Nurse Anesthetists accuses Allina, several of its hospitals and dozens of anesthesiologists of billing for work they didn't perform over six years. Allina and the other defendants had argued that the anesthetists' association didn't have standing to sue, but earlier this year the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it did. The case is scheduled to go to trial Jan. 13.
Empire to go for-profit
* Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, New York's largest insurer, last week got a green light from the state insurance department to convert to a for-profit company that will be traded under the name WellChoice. As part of a deal struck with the healthcare workers union, state lawmakers authorized roughly $1.8 billion over three years to subsidize healthcare workers' salaries and help recruit and retain employees. Most of the money was to come from the estimated $1 billion that would be raised by Empire's initial public offering.
Insurers own biggest enemy
* A rise in medical malpractice insurance premiums is tied more closely to the nation's up-and-down economy than to multimillion-dollar jury awards, according to a study by a coalition of consumer groups, Americans for Insurance Reform, released last week. It blamed insurers' own investment actions for creating a "crisis in insurance affordability and availability," said study author J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America.