What's the most despicable way you can imagine a hospital chain trying to make extra cash? Short of kidnapping people to harvest their organs, it might be performing loads of unnecessary heart surgeries, putting patients at serious risk of death. That's exactly what HCA, the hospital chain founded by Gov. Rick Scott, has done repeatedly, the New York Times reports this morning.
Federal investigators asked for records from the company last month after an internal probe found widespread problems with bogus surgeries at HCA hospitals, including at least two facilities in Miami.
Scott has sold most of his shares in HCA -- which he founded in 1989 -- since becoming governor, but he was the CEO of the firm when it overbilled Medicare by more than a billion dollars, later incurring a $1.7 billion penalty from the feds for the fraud.
The company's new scandal started with a letter from a nurse, the Times writes. She complained to the company's ethics board that doctors at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce had been performing unneeded heart surgeries.
The ethics officer, Stephen Johnson, looked into it and found her complaint "substantiated." Internal documents show that that complaint wasn't isolated; at hospitals around Florida, HCA had evidence as far back as 2002 that doctors were "unable to justify many of the procedures they were performing," the Times reports.
Physicians went so far as to to alter medical records to cover up the bad surgeries -- and some patients paid the price.
At one hospital, for instance, a 44-year-old patient complaining of chest pains was nearly killed by an unnecessary heart procedure; another woman with no heart disease went into cardiac arrest after a doctor placed an unneeded stent into her heart.
Why would they do unnecessary surgery? Because heart procedures are "big business," the Times says; for every stent, for instance, Medicare pays out $10,000 to the chain.
The feds are looking into the problem. HCA officials admitted yesterday that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami had requested documents in July related to reviews of the necessity of medical procedures at 10 hospitals.
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HCA -- which operates Kendall Regional Medical Center and dozens of other hospitals around Florida -- has uploaded a four-page letter to its website today defending its heart surgery record. You can read the whole thing here.
Also worth mentioning: Scott's administration was among the first in the country to challenge Obama's health care reforms. And he's already been selected as a speaker at this month's Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Hey GOP: Maybe it's time to stop looking to Rick Scott as a political leader on health care issues, eh?