HCA hit with SEC complaint, antitrust suit

Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare was hit with another antitrust lawsuit and a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint this week. 

On July 27, the city of Asheville, N.C., and Buncombe County filed a lawsuit against HCA and Mission Health, which is owned by HCA. The lawsuit alleges the health systems have engaged in anti-competitive practices. It is the third lawsuit of its kind filed against HCA and Mission in less than a year by entities in Western North Carolina, according to the Citizen Times

"The County Commissioners are concerned that HCA's business operations monopolize healthcare while artificially inflating prices, and self-insured organizations like ours have no other recourse," said Brownie Newman, Buncombe County Board of Commissioners chair, according to the report. 

An HCA spokesperson said the company will defend against the allegations. 

"We are disappointed in this action and we continue to be proud of the heroic work our team does daily," spokesperson Nancy Lindell told the Citizen Times. "Mission Health has been caring for Western North Carolina for more than 130 years and our dedication to providing excellent healthcare to our community will not waiver as we vigorously defend against this meritless litigation."

On July 28, a union-backed investment group filed a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint against HCA. The complaint alleges the company failed to disclose information regarding risks related to allegations of Medicare fraud. 

"Since at least 2014, HCA has consistently explained its corporate strategy to investors by noting that higher hospital admissions reliably translate into high company earnings, and that emergency departments are one of the key mechanisms through which hospitals can increase their admission rates," the complaint reads. "For over a decade, Medicare regulators at HHS have identified high levels of emergency department admissions as a potential indicator of improper practices."

The investment group said it is calling on the SEC to investigate HCA to determine whether the company's statements about ED admissions are misleading. "HCA's aggressive ER admissions practices and general lack of transparency raise grave concerns about the company's long-term reputation and success," the investment group said. 

The complaint filed by SOC Investment Group appears to rehash claims the group purported two years ago, HCA spokesperson Ed Fishbough said in a statement to Becker's Hospital Review. The company filed a response to those claims in 2021. 

"We remain confident in our processes and robust audit systems," Mr. Fishbough told Becker's.  "In addition to our internal reviews, independent third-party audits provide additional confidence in our compliance with regulatory requirements. Our hospitals are staffed by physicians, clinicians and nurses who work tirelessly to ensure our patients receive medically necessary care in the appropriate clinical setting."

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