HCA subject of whistleblower suit

A former employee of Hospital Corporation of America, Inc. (HCA), the large publicly-traded hospital operator, accused the organization of engaging in unnecessary surgeries in a whistleblower lawsuit, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

The suit, which was filed in federal court in Miami almost three years ago, was unsealed last week. Former HCA Professional Liability Claims Director Christopher Gentile accuses the hospital chain of ramping up unnecessary cardiac surgeries at the chain's Lawnwood Regional Medical Center & Heart Institute in Fort Pierce, Florida and Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Hudson, Florida.

Gentile filed the suit at about the time he left HCA, and now runs an insurance claims management business in Nashville, Tennessee.

Such allegations are familiar territory to the Tennessee-based HCA. In 2000 and 2003 it settled federal lawsuits accusing it of improperly billing Medicare and paying kickbacks to physicians for a combined $1.7 billion--at the time, the largest-ever settlement related to a federal healthcare-related probe, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In 2012, HCA disclosed it had come under federal scrutiny again, this time in connection to charges its facilities had been aggressively placing cardiac stents into patients. HCA said at that time the practice of placing stents can sometimes be widely misinterpreted. That investigation has yet to be concluded, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Despite its legal woes, HCA's bottom line has been healthy, with Barron's projecting that its net income will rise 17 percent in calendar 2015, and that a significant part of its growth is not dependent on the Affordable Care Act.

The U.S. Justice Department has declined to intervene in this case. Many whistleblower, or qui tam, cases are often quickly settled when the federal government weighs in on the side of the individual who files the suit.

To learn more:
- read the Wall Street Journal article 
- check out the Barron's article