A decade after it began and nearly six years after a stunning series of hospital raids announced it, the federal government's wide-ranging probe of Medicare billing practices at HCA, Nashville, has come to a close. The U.S. Justice Department and HCA announced they signed the $631 million settlement agreed to in December. The settlement covers eight whistleblower lawsuits alleging that the company falsified Medicare cost reports, paid kickbacks to physicians for patient referrals and submitted false claims for wound-care services. HCA also will pay $17.5 million to state Medicaid departments to resolve similar allegations. In addition, HCA and the CMS signed their settlement of cost reports filed between the time the investigation became public in July 1997 and July 31, 2002. HCA will pay the CMS $250 million by July 1, the company said.
HCA, which owns or operates about 192 hospitals, said it took an after-tax charge of $468 million in the 2002 fourth quarter to cover the settlements. Coupled with a December 2000 settlement of all criminal and some civil Medicare fraud allegations, HCA will pay a total of $1.7 billion to settle claims arising out of a series of whistleblower lawsuits that began in 1993. Separately, HCA agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a whistleblower suit alleging that West Paces Medical Center, Atlanta, paid kickbacks for referrals of diabetes patients, the Justice Department said. The government did not intervene in the suit. -- by Vince Galloro