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Bayfront leaders question new HMA partners after critical '60 Minutes' report

ST. PETERSBURG — Bayfront Medical Center leaders said Monday they were questioning their new partners at Health Management Associates after a critical investigation by CBS's 60 Minutes on the company's medical practices.

In a televised report on Sunday, the for-profit hospital chain was accused of pressuring doctors at some of its hospitals nationally to admit patients, regardless of medical need, to increase revenues.

Those allegations, which HMA denies, haven't changed Bayfront's plans to sell the Naples-based company an 80 percent stake in its St. Petersburg hospital, officials said during an interview with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.

"We as a board are asking lots of questions about this, so we can assure ourselves that we aren't inviting a trickster," said attorney Steven Dupré, who is vice chairman of Bayfront's board of trustees and head of a committee tasked with its strategic development.

HMA also has disclosed in U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings that federal authorities have been investigating certain aspects of the company, including "the medical necessity of emergency room tests and patient admissions."

But from Bayfront's perspective, Dupré said, HMA has been forthcoming about the investigations. And officials note that many large health care companies have drawn regulators' scrutiny.

Last month, six hospitals in the nonprofit BayCare Health System — the largest hospital system in the Tampa Bay region — agreed to pay the federal government more than $10 million to settle a nearly four-year investigation into allegations that they overbilled for cardiac procedures for Medicare patients. Officials admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, which they blamed on billing confusion.

"Find me an medical organization that isn't audited at any point in time … (and) is pristine and that would be terrific," Dupré said. "What's important to Bayfront, we aren't being bamboozled, we aren't being misled into joining forces with an organization whose policy is to commit Medicare fraud."

The HMA-Bayfront deal is now in due diligence phase. Any change of ownership at Bayfront must be approved by St. Petersburg, which owns the land the hospital sits on. Officials hope to close in the first quarter of 2013.

Bayfront leaders question new HMA partners after critical '60 Minutes' report 12/03/12 [Last modified: Monday, December 3, 2012 10:29pm]
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