Three former executives at HealthSouth Corp., Birmingham, Ala., invoked their right to avoid self-incrimination and refused to answer scores of questions posed by attorneys for company founder and former Chief Executive Officer Richard Scrushy. Former Chief Financial Officer Weston Smith, former Chief Information Officer Kenneth Livesay and former Vice President of Finance and Assistant Controller Rebecca Morgan appeared in U.S. District Court in Birmingham during the ongoing hearing over whether Scrushy will be permitted to access his personal assets during a federal probe of alleged accounting fraud at the company. Scrushy has not been criminally charged. Two other HealthSouth executives-surgery center division President Larry Taylor and inpatient division President Patrick Foster-testified that they had never been advised to falsify financial information and had not seen evidence of accounting fraud at the company. Ex-CFO Michael Martin is expected to become the ninth executive to plead guilty in the case.
AbioCor recipient dies
An Ohio man died of multiple organ failure 101 days after receiving an AbioCor implantable replacement heart at Jewish Hospital, Louisville, Ky., officials said. The patient, Keith Blakeley, a World War II veteran from North Star, Ohio, died on the eve of his 80th birthday. He underwent six hours of surgery Jan. 7 to implant the self-contained mechanical heart. The replacement heart, designed for patients with end-stage heart failure who have a 70% chance of death within 30 days, has been implanted in 10 patients. Nine, including Blakeley, have died. The patient who remains alive underwent surgery Feb. 24 at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital, Houston.
Medicare expands PET coverage
Medicare expanded its coverage of positron emission tomography for the first time since December 2000 to include thyroid cancer and potential cardiac diseases. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also said it is designing a demonstration project to evaluate the feasibility of using PET for patients with suspected dementia and will convene an expert panel to explore the technology's value in diagnosing Alzheimer's disease. The CMS rejected extending PET coverage to soft tissue sarcoma, a rare type of cancer. PET scans already are reimbursed for the diagnosis, staging and restaging of several cancers, including lung, esophageal, colorectal and breast, among others. Coverage won't become effective for at least six months, when written instructions are to be provided to the CMS' contractors, a spokesman said.