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Tampa Bay hospitals pay millions in national settlement with Justice Department

Published Oct. 31, 2015

Tampa Bay area hospitals were among the hundreds across the nation that paid a total of $250 million to the U.S. Department of Justice to settle allegations that they improperly implanted cardiac devices in patients.

Among local hospitals named in the federal lawsuit was Tampa General Hospital, which paid $2 million in the settlement.

Tampa General officials, however, disputed the federal allegations. In a statement released Friday, hospital officials denied any wrongdoing. Tampa General agreed to the settlement, officials said, to avoid "costly and distracting litigation."

"The government inquiry was prompted by a lawsuit filed by two people not affiliated with Tampa General," officials said in the statement.

According to the Justice Department, other bay area hospital systems that complied with the settlement include:

HCA Holdings Inc., which runs the Tampa Bay Heart Institute at Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg, Largo Medical Center and Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County, paid $15.8 million for its 42 hospitals.

Health Management Associates paid $7.2 million for Bartow Regional Medical Center and 26 other hospitals.

Adventist Health System Sunbelt Healthcare Corp. paid $5.5 million for 11 of its hospitals, including Florida Hospital Zephyrhills.

Universal Health Services Inc. paid $4.9 million for 19 hospitals, including Lakewood Ranch Medical Center and Manatee Memorial Hospital.

IASIS Healthcare Corp. paid $1.5 million for Memorial Hospital of Tampa and 13 of its other hospitals.

Nationwide, 70 settlements were reached with 457 hospitals in 43 states.

Those hospitals all faced allegations that they improperly gave patients an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD. It detects abnormal and potentially dangerous heart rhythms and then shocks the heart back to a normal rhythm.

The devices cost $25,000 each, and Medicare has strict rules for what patients can receive the devices and when. Under those rules, patients must wait 40 days after suffering a heart attack and 90 days after a heart bypass or angioplasty.

But 457 hospitals all violated those rules from 2003 to 2010, according to federal officials.

"The settlements announced today demonstrate the Department of Justice's commitment to protect Medicare dollars and federal health benefits," said U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida in a prepared statement.

A panel of cardiologists and other officials reviewed thousands of patient chats to determine the scope of the settlement. This suit was one of the largest whistle-blower lawsuits in the U.S., according to the Justice Department.

"We are confident that the settlements announced today will lead to increased compliance and result in significant savings to the Medicare program while protecting patient health," said Benjamin Mizer, head of the Justice Department's Civil Division.

Contact Michael Majchrowicz at (813) 226-3374 or mmajchrowicz@tampabay.com. Follow @mjmajchrowicz.

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