Largest hospital company in the world faces manipulation charges

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HCA, the largest hospital management company in the world, is facing SEC charges that it made up thousands of payments for fake nursing shifts. In an exclusive report, The Washington Post said the probe focuses on the company's operations in London.

This is not the first time HCA has been involved in wrongdoing; in the mid-1990s the company was found to have committed a huge health-care fraud and fined $1.7 billion in penalties. Then in 2006, several equity firms paid $33 billion to take HCA private.

The news of the probe is likely to raise a red flag in the U.S. as Obama's Administration and the U.S. Congress ponder ways to reduce health care costs and improve services as part of an overhaul of insurance and medical care that could cost $1 trillion over the next decade. The HCA investigation points to an issue which has not been part of the conversation, at least not in any meaningful way. Fraud occurs in the health care industry just as it does in other sectors of the economy. More careful monitoring of billing practices and procedures could be critical to cutting the overall cost of medicine and hospital stays.

There are many ways to attack the cost of providing medical treatment. One of the weapons in the arsenal is pressing for legitimate financial practices among health care providers. Fraud can be expensive, at least for the victims.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.
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