Health Management Associates Defends ED Practices Ahead of "60 Minutes" Story

Naples, Fla.-based Health Management Associates executives said today its inpatient admissions from emergency departments are "in line with industry norms" as the for-profit hospital operator looked to defend its practices ahead of a "60 Minutes" story airing this Sunday.

Two Health Management executives — Alan Levin, senior vice president and Florida Group president, and Eric Waller, senior vice president and chief marketing officer — held a call with investors this morning. News program "60 Minutes" will be airing a segment Sunday featuring Health Management. Although executives said they do not know the exact content of the segment, they held the call to "refute information" it believes will cast a negative light on the company.

Mr. Levine provided an on-camera interview with "60 Minutes" and CBS this past October, and based on his conversation with them, he said he believes the segment will hone in on Health Management's inpatient admissions from the ED. He said Health Management has since conducted an analysis of its admissions data, concluding there is "no basis that our ER admissions increased or are not in line with industry norms."

Mr. Waller said since January 2008, inpatient admissions from the company's EDs have remained stable around 13.3 percent, "which track national norms."

Mr. Levine said the admissions process from the ED is complicated. He said this is especially true as the government's Recovery Auditors critically review observation status, but the final decision to admit a patient from the ED is left up to the independent medical judgments of the physicians — not executives or any other administrative official. "Simply put, administrators cannot and do not admit patients," Mr. Levine said.

Last year, HHS' Office of Inspector General issued subpoenas to Health Management, one of which involved its ED admissions practices. Health Management's Carlisle (Pa.) Regional Medical Center was also under fire last year after the Pennsylvania Department of Health found it was using ED beds as regular inpatient beds, among other deficiencies. However, Mr. Waller said the hospital's admissions rates were at or below the national and Pennsylvania state averages.

Health Management is not the only for-profit chain to receive scrutiny recently over its ED practices. In April 2011, HHS issued a subpoena to Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems, requesting information on CHS' relationships and financial arrangements with ED physicians. In August, the New York Times released an investigative report on Nashville, Tenn.-based Hospital Corporation of America, the largest for-profit hospital chain in the country, which allegedly had questionable billing practices in the ED.

"60 Minutes" will air at 7 p.m. EST Sunday.

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