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HCA - Parkridge Fined $16.5 Million
HCA Inc., one of the nation’s largest private hospital chains, has agreed to pay $16.5 million to settle alleged violations of the Ethics in Patient Referrals Act (also known as the Stark law), the False Claims Act, and other federal and state laws and regulations in connection with the operation of its subsidiary, Parkridge Medical Center, Inc., in Chattanooga. In addition, Parkridge Medical Center has entered into a comprehensive five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement with the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS-OIG) to ensure its continued compliance with federal health care benefit program requirements.
During 2007, HCA, through its subsidiaries Parkridge and HCA Physician Services (HCAPS), entered into a series of financial transactions with a physician group, Diagnostic Associates of Chattanooga, through which it provided financial benefits intended to induce the physician members of Diagnostic to refer patients to HCA facilities. The financial benefits included lease of office space from Diagnostic at a rental rate well in excess of fair market value to meet the mortgage obligations of the Diagnostic members and release of Diagnostic members from a separate lease obligation. These financial arrangements violated the Ethics in Patient Referrals Act and the Anti-Kickback Statute – laws designed to protect patients as well as the integrity of government-funded health care benefit programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE, and TennCare.
As U.S. Attorney Bill Killian explained, “Physicians should make decisions regarding referrals to health care facilities based on what is in the best interest of patients without being induced by payments from hospitals competing for their business.”
Federal law prohibits hospitals from submitting claims to government-funded health care benefit programs for inpatient and outpatient hospital services referred, ordered, or arranged for by physicians who have prohibited financial arrangements with those hospitals.
"We will not allow hospitals to provide financial incentives to induce physicians to steer patients their way," said Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, HHS-OIG in Atlanta. "These arrangements can corrupt medical decision-making and may result in unnecessary diagnostic testing and hospital admissions."
During the period from 2007 through 2011, HCA through Parkridge, submitted or caused to be submitted claims to Medicare, TRICARE, and TennCare/Medicaid for inpatient and outpatient hospital services referred, ordered or arranged for by the Diagnostic physician members who benefitted from the prohibited financial arrangements between HCA Diagnostic. Medicare and the other health care benefit programs paid the claims for those hospital services, and this settlement addresses the financial harm to the Medicare and Medicaid trust funds, TriCare and TennCare for the moneys paid out of those funds which HCA improperly claimed and received during that time period. Under the False Claims Act, a recipient of such funds may be liable for as much as three times the amount paid by the government program plus civil penalties.
The determination of the losses suffered by the government in a False Claims Act case based on violations of the Stark law depends largely upon the number of physicians who benefitted from the financial arrangements with the hospital, the number of patients referred by those physicians to the hospital, and the amount paid by the government to the hospital for claims submitted for all those patients. The False Claims Act further provides for trebling of any losses and penalties of between $5,500-$11,000 per claim.
“Today's settlement is the third since 2005 involving violations by hospitals in Chattanooga of the Ethics in Patient Referrals and False Claims Acts and reflects the Justice Department's continued determination to enforce these laws to protect both patients and the Medicare and Medicaid trust funds,” said U.S. Attorney Killian. Mr. Killian further noted that this settlement resulted from a comprehensive investigation which began as a result of a qui tam or whistleblower complaint filed in 2008. After an administrative subpoena was served on HCA subsidiaries in July 2009, HCA produced documents to the United States and made its personnel available for interviews.
"The Defense Criminal Investigative Service is committed to ensuring that TRICARE, the U.S. military health care program, continues to provide safe and superior medical care to America's Warfighters and their families." said John F. Khin, Special Agent in Charge, Defense Criminal Investigative Service- Southeast Field Office. "The successful resolution of this case demonstrates the effectiveness of joint investigations to combat health care fraud and preserve the integrity of this vital program."
Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper noted: "We are proud to have worked closely with our federal partners to bring this case to resolution. Combating fraud is essential to the strength and integrity of the TennCare program and is a high priority of this office."
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Last Update on March 06, 2014 18:12 GMT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A surging stock market and rebounding home prices boosted Americans' wealth to a record in the final three months of last year, though both trends have slowed so far in 2014.
Household net worth jumped nearly $3 trillion during last year's fourth quarter to $80.7 trillion. Stock and mutual fund portfolios gained nearly $1.7 trillion, or 9 percent.
The value of Americans' homes rose just over $400 billion, a 2 percent gain. And checking account balances, pensions plan assets and retirement savings, such as 401(k)s, also increased.
Home prices nationwide during 2013 rose by the most in eight years. And the Standard & Poor's 500 index of large stocks jumped 32 percent.
So far this year, home-price gains have slowed, and the S&P 500 has risen just 1.4 percent.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits dropped 26,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 323,000, the lowest level in three months as layoffs remain at pre-recession levels.
The Labor Department says the four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, fell slightly to a seasonally adjusted 336,500.
That average indicates that companies are cutting few jobs and anticipate steady economic growth despite the winter slowdown. Applications are a rough proxy for layoffs.
Economists are watching these numbers ahead of the February jobs report being released Friday. Cold weather and snowstorms appear to have limited hiring in January and December.
A total of 3.4 million Americans received benefits as of Feb. 15 -- the latest period for which figures are available -- down from 3.49 million the previous week.
UNDATED (AP) -- Fewer workers were losing their jobs last month, according to outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Challenger says job cuts announced in February totaled less than 42,000, down 7.3 percent from January. Challenger says that's 24 percent less than a year ago and the lowest February total since the turn of the century.
CEO John Challenger says this isn't what he'd expect if "the economy is about ready to tip over or we're near recession." He says the relatively low number of layoffs suggests an improving business climate has reduced pressure on employers to cut jobs. At the current pace, he says, the first quarter could see the fewest job cuts since 1995.
The heaviest job-cut activity last month was in the financial sector. Challenger says some of those cuts were related to cutbacks in mortgage lending as interest rates rise, but a lot "were due to the ongoing shift away from branch banking toward increaded mobile banking."
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. productivity grew at an even slower annual rate than previously thought in the final three months of last year.
Economists are hoping productivity growth will revive in 2014, reflecting a stronger economy.
The Labor Department says productivity grew at an annual rate of 1.8 percent in the October-December quarter, a slowdown from 3.5 percent productivity growth in the third quarter.
The new estimate was lower than the 3.2 percent gain the government had previously reported. Unit labor costs dipped 0.1 percent, a smaller drop than the 1.6 percent drop previously estimated.
For the year, productivity increased a tiny 0.5 percent, continuing a weak trend seen over the past three years. Analysts are forecasting a rebound in productivity this year, helped by stronger economic growth.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Orders to U.S. factories fell in January for a second straight month but a key category that signals business investment plans rebounded. That could be an indication that businesses are becoming more confident.
The Commerce Department says factory orders dipped 0.7 percent in January following an even bigger 2 percent decline December, which was a larger drop than first reported and the biggest decline since July. The weakness in both months was led by large declines in demand for commercial aircraft.
Orders for core capital goods, a proxy for business investment, rose 1.5 percent in January, recovering after a 1.6 percent drop in December.
Demand for durable goods, items expected to last at least three years, were down 1 percent while non-durable goods orders slipped 0.4 percent.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages fell after three weeks of rises, edging closer to historically low levels.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 30-year loan declined to 4.28 percent from 4.37 percent last week. The average for the 15-year mortgage fell to 3.32 percent from 3.39 percent.
A report released Tuesday by real estate data provider CoreLogic showed that U.S. home prices rose 0.9 percent in January after three months of declines, as a tight supply of properties likely supported prices despite slower sales.
Economists believe such outsize price gains might not continue much longer, however.
FRAMINGHAM, Mass. (AP) -- Staples will close 225 stores by the end of next year and the office-supply retailer is initiating a plan to save about $500 million annually by 2015,
The Framingham, Mass., company says nearly half of its sales are now generated online, so it will aggressively cut costs to become more efficient. The closings, all in North America, will help the company meet its pre-tax savings goal.
The store closings amount to about 10 percent of Staples Inc.'s worldwide total of 2,200. It has 1,500 locations in the United States.
The company's fourth quarter earnings more than doubled compared with last year, when the company booked a restructuring charge of more than $176 million.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Kroger is reporting a better-than-expected fourth-quarter profit as the nation's largest supermarket operator saw a key sales figure rise.
The Cincinnati-based company, which also operates Ralphs and Fry's, has fared better than its peers in adapting to a shifting supermarket landscape that is undergoing consolidation. In particular, supermarkets are facing stiffer competition from big-box retailers, specialty chains and other players.
For the period ending Feb. 1, Kroger Co. said sales at established locations rose 4.3 percent, excluding fuel.
It earned $422 million, or 81 cents per share. Excluding one-time items, it earned 78 cents per share, topping the 72 cent per share Wall Street expected.
A year ago, it earned $462 million, or 88 cents per share.
Revenue came in at $23.22 billion, above the $23.15 billion analysts expected.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Republican-controlled House has moved to block the president's plan to limit carbon pollution from new power plants.
It's an election-year strike at the White House. The House approved a bill Thursday targeting the power plant rule, as Republicans fight back against what they call the Obama administration's "war on coal."
President Barack Obama's proposal is a key part of his plan to fight climate change. It would set the first national limits on heat-trapping pollution from future power plants.
The House bill was approved 229-183. It would require the Environmental Protection Agency to set carbon emissions standards based on technology in use for at least a year.
Republicans and some coal-state Democrats say the EPA rule is based on carbon-capturing technology that does not currently exist.
The White House has threatened a veto.
OIL TRAINS-EMERGENCY ORDER
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- Federal regulators are further tightening testing requirements for companies that transport oil by rail after a spate of explosions caused by crude train derailments in the U.S. and Canada.
Thursday's action from the U.S. Department of Transportation builds on a Feb. 25 order that targeted oil shipments for more stringent testing.
Testing has long been required to gauge the volatility of oil and other hazardous liquids. But there were no standards on how frequently that had to be done.
Transportation officials are now specifying that within the "reasonable, recent past" companies must have tested the flash point and boiling point of crude to determine how likely it is to ignite.
Officials are telling companies not to re-label crude as some other volatile product in an attempt to get around testing.
KENTUCKY BRIDGE COLLAPSE-LAWSUIT
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Kentucky transportation officials are suing the crew of a cargo ship that struck and collapsed part of a bridge, causing millions in damage and diverting traffic for four months.
The state Transportation Cabinet says in a lawsuit moved to federal court this week that it spent at least $7 million to repair the Eggner's Ferry Bridge over the Tennessee River after the Delta Mariner struck it on Jan. 26, 2012. The cabinet's lawsuit says the ship's crew ignored warnings from the U.S. Coast Guard that the western Kentucky bridge's navigation lights were out.
A message left for the cargo ship owners, Seattle-based Foss Maritime, was not immediately returned Thursday.
The wreck caused a 322-foot section of the span to collapse.
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