HCA, Nashville, said its profits rose for the fourth quarter and year ended Dec. 31, 2003, compared with the year-ago periods; however, its 2002 figures were weighed down by a $603 million charge to settle a federal investigation of HCA's Medicare billing. The company said it earned $317 million, or 63 cents per share, in the fourth quarter, compared with a loss of $102 million, or 20 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter. Revenue was up 11% to $5.6 billion. For 2003, HCA earned $1.3 billion, or $2.61 per share, versus $968 million, or $1.59 per share, in 2002. Revenue climbed 10.5% to $21.8 billion. HCA said same-hospital admissions for the fourth quarter were up 2.1%, with half of the increase directly related to flu admissions. For all of 2003, same-hospital admissions were up 0.6%. HCA owns or operates 191 hospitals, including seven operated as 50-50 joint ventures.
Meanwhile, another investor-owned chain heard bad news from Fitch Ratings. The firm downgraded its ratings for Tenet Healthcare Corp., Santa Barbara, Calif., to B+ from BB with a negative outlook. Fitch cited Tenet's weak cash flow and trouble with managed-care payers. Tenet said last week that it would sell 27 hospitals and would not meet profit expectations for the fourth quarter of 2003 or in 2004. Tenet owns or operates 100 hospitals, pending divestitures or closures totaling 31 hospitals. -- by Vince Galloro