Stalled Talks Prompt DOJ to Threaten Other Suits Against HCA
Settlement negotiations between the Department of Justice and HCA-The Healthcare Co. over alleged physician kickbacks have stalled, prompting the DOJ to consider joining more "whistle-blower lawsuits" against the hospital chain, the Bloomberg News/Baltimore Sun reports. Both groups hope to settle civil allegations that HCA, the nation's largest hospital chain, paid kickbacks to "hundreds" of physicians for referring patients to its hospitals. In addition, the DOJ charges that HCA "routinely inflated annual costs" in its Medicare reports. Court documents filed last week by the DOJ said talks between the agency and HCA have "bogged down" over whether HCA can retain reimbursements for claims that violated kickback laws. Justice Department officials have requested a meeting next month with HCA to demand a settlement for the kickback violations. If a settlement cannot be reached, the Justice Department may decide to extend its five-year fraud investigation of the company and join other lawsuits against HCA over inflated cost reports. Those lawsuits would involve civil issues that were not covered in a settlement reached by both sides in December. In that settlement, HCA agreed to pay $95 million in criminal fines and $745 million in civil penalties for allegations that the company "overbilled Medicare for laboratory and home health services." Addressing the current settlement talks, HCA spokesperson Jeff Prescott said that the company does not view the impasse as the "final word." He added that the government has indicated it is "open to further discussions." The DOJ has until March 15 to decide whether to join the other suits (Bloomberg News/Baltimore Sun, 2/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.