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HMA defends itself ahead of '60 Minutes' investigative piece

TALLAHASSEE — The Naples-based hospital chain Health Management Associates rushed Friday to try to defend itself against a critical story that the CBS News program 60 Minutes is expected to broadcast today about hospital admissions of emergency-room patients.

Alan Levine, an HMA senior vice president and Florida Group president, said during a conference call with media and analysts that the company is not certain of the details of the 60 Minutes report. But Levine, a former secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, represented the company in an interview with the show in October and said questions included whether HMA has excessive admissions from emergency rooms.

Levine said data show that the company's emergency-patient admissions are in line with the rest of the hospital industry. Also, he tried to stress that patients' doctors, not hospital officials, make decisions about whether admissions are needed.

"Simply put, administrators cannot and do not admit patients," he said.

In October, St. Petersburg's Bayfront Medical Center announced plans to join HMA's chain of hospitals. Bayfront and HMA plan to close the deal in March pending approval from the city of St. Petersburg, which owns the land on which the hospital sits.

The 60 Minutes website Friday included a thumbnail description of the report — dubbed "The Cost of Admission." John Merriwether, HMA's vice president of financial operations, said the company was informed late Thursday that the investigative piece would air.

"Steve Kroft investigates allegations from doctors that the hospital chain they worked for pressured them to admit patients regardless of their medical needs,'' the 60 Minutes website description says, referring to one of the highly rated program's correspondents.

HMA disclosed in previous U.S. Securities & 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."

It said the investigations had been opened by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice, with at least part of the issue focused on whether a type of emergency-room software led to unnecessary admissions or tests. The federal government has a huge stake in such issues because of the Medicare program.

At least part of the 60 Minutes focus could be on HMA's Carlisle Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania. The Patriot-News newspaper in Harrisburg, Pa., reported in July that a 60 Minutes producer had contacted former Carlisle Regional doctors and asked questions about issues such as whether emergency-room doctors faced pressure to admit patients.

When asked Friday about whether 60 Minutes is focusing on other hospitals in addition to Carlisle Regional, Levine responded, "At this point, we don't know."

HMA has 70 hospitals in 15 states, with the largest concentrations in Florida, Alabama and North Carolina, according to the company's website. The company's 22 Florida hospitals are generally in small or medium-sized markets.

HMA is also a prominent player in hospital-related issues in Tallahassee. Its roster of lobbyists includes figures such as former state Republican Chairman Al Cardenas.

HMA defends itself ahead of '60 Minutes' investigative piece 12/01/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 1, 2012 8:05pm]
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