HCA and the Cleveland Clinic have resolved charges that a 1998 settlement of two certificate-of-need disputes between their Florida subsidiaries reduced competition and raised prices in nine counties, court records show. Both providers denied any wrongdoing in the settlement. A judge in U.S. District Court, Fort Myers, Fla., approved the settlement last week. Each provider will pay $100,000 to Florida healthcare charities and $20,000 to cover the costs of the suit, filed by the Florida attorney general's office April 18. Under the1998 agreement, HCA dropped its CON application to build a hospital that would compete with the Cleveland Clinic's hospital in Collier County. In return, the clinic rescinded its CON application for an open-heart surgery center in Broward County and agreed not to open facilities in seven other Florida counties where Nashville-based HCA does business. The settlement with the Florida attorney general's office nullifies the parts of the 1998 agreement deemed anticompetitive.
Also, HCA announced that its board approved $1.5 billion in stock repurchases, or up to about 9% of the company's outstanding shares. HCA said it is taking the step because it believes its stock, trading at around $32 per share, is undervalued. The repurchases will not jeopardize the company's capital spending plans of nearly $2 billion this year, HCA said. -- by Vince Galloro