HCA, Nashville, said its profits rose 20% in the first quarter, compared with the year-ago quarter, as patient volume increased and growth in the number of uninsured patients moderated. The company raised its 2005 earnings expectations by 30 cents to beween $3.05 per share and $3.20 per share. HCA earned net income of $414 million, or 95 cents per share, in the first quarter ended March 31, compared with net income of $345 million, or 69 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter. Revenue was up 4.1% to $6.18 billion.
Equivalent admissions increased 2.1% on a same-facility basis. Outpatient surgeries rose 3.2% at the company's ambulatory centers and 0.6% at its hospitals. Emergency room visits were up 7.9%. HCA said a discount policy for uninsured patients, implemented last year, helped reduce its bad-debt expense to 9.3% of revenue, compared with 11.7% of revenue in the 2004 first quarter. HCA attributed $109 million of the reduction in bad debt to the discount policy; without the policy, bad-debt expense would have been 10.9% of revenue. HCA owns or operates 190 hospitals. -- by Vince Galloro