FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 3, 2022
OAKLAND, Calif. – A brand new report indicates that America’s largest for-profit hospital corporation, HCA Healthcare (NYSE: HCA), may be engaging in widespread unnecessary admissions that may have bilked American taxpayers out of billions and may be reaping devastating impacts on patients, healthcare workers, and communities already pushed to the brink by the Omicron surge.
New research contained in the report, released by America’s largest union of healthcare workers, SEIU, suggests that HCA may have netted nearly $2 billion in excess Medicare payments from 2008 through 2019 by routinely over-admitting emergency department patients for inpatient hospital stays regardless of medical need. As the new investigative report notes, HCA has a long and troubled history of Medicare fraud including being the subject of the largest Medicare fraud settlement in history at the time in the early 2000’s, with HCA agreeing to pay a total of $1.7 billion.
“It’s shameful that the largest for-profit hospital system is engaged in practices that maximize profit at the expense of patient care, working conditions, and taxpayer dollars,” said Dave Regan, president of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West. “The services – necessary or not – that patients and taxpayers are paying such a high cost for are further being shortchanged by understaffing the care that is being provided. HCA Healthcare needs to be held accountable.”
SEIU’s analysis finds that HCA’s average Medicare emergency department admission rate has been well above the national average for several years, and the same is true in California. In 2019, HCA’s California hospitals had an average Medicare emergency department admission rate of about 41% – compared to the statewide average that year of about 32%. Further, SEIU’s analysis suggests that many of these admissions at HCA’s California hospitals may have been unnecessary, leading to millions in potential overpayment from Medicare. SEIU estimates that HCA’s California hospitals may have received $8 million in overpayments from Medicare in 2019 for these potentially unnecessary admissions, and a total of more than $44 million since 2008.
With hospital beds running out across the country right now, HCA’s apparent unnecessary emergency admissions are potentially putting tens of thousands of HCA patients a year at risk of contracting a potentially deadly hospital-acquired infection, and exacerbating the dangerous bed shortage for COVID patients.
HCA’s alleged Medicare over admissions could be further endangering patients in their hospitals: 89% of HCA worker respondents recently reported that unsafe staffing levels currently jeopardize patient care in their facility. HCA’s hospital staffing levels, a key indicator of patient safety, lagged the national average by 30% before the pandemic.
“Staffing ratios have long been a problem at HCA. Technicians like myself have a massive workload; it impacts our mental and physical well-being as frontline workers as well as our patients,” said Xochitl Gonzalez, patient care technician at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, California. “I want to be able to give patients the best care possible, but how can I when I don’t have the proper support? It’s clear that the workers are not a priority for HCA.”
HCA made $7 billion in profit in 2021 amidst the pandemic and has paid out over $29 billion to investors since 2010. The Frist family, HCA’s founders and largest shareholders, have more than doubled their wealth during the pandemic. Despite this, tens of thousands of exhausted frontline healthcare workers at HCA currently receive poverty wages as low as $12.50/hour.
Media contact: Renée Saldaña, [email protected]
SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) is a healthcare justice union of more than 100,000 healthcare workers, patients, and healthcare activists united to ensure affordable, accessible, high-quality care for all Californians, provided by valued and respected healthcare workers. Learn more at www.seiu-uhw.org.
About SEIU Healthcare: More than one million healthcare workers across hospitals, in-home care, and in nursing homes are united in SEIU, the nation’s largest union of healthcare workers. SEIU is an organization of nearly 2 million members united by a belief in the dignity and worth of workers and the services they provide. SEIU is dedicated to improving the lives of workers, families, and communities to create a more just and humane society.