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Friday, 15 December, 2000, 22:17 GMT
US hospitals fined $800m for fraud
Nurse attends to an old lady at a US hospital
Medicare provides for the poor and elderly
A hospital chain in the United States has agreed to pay back more than $800m in what has been described as the largest fraud settlement ever obtained by the American authorities.

The company, HCA, was accused of fraudulent billing and overcharging Medicare, a federal health programme which provides for millions of poor and elderly Americans.

The Justice department said under a civil settlement, the Healthcare Company (HCA), will pay $745m plus interest for alleged false billing practices, and $95m in criminal charges.

The Attorney General, Janet Reno, said that a company that defrauds the nation's health care programmes, took money out of taxpayers' pockets.

FBI raid

US Attorney General, Janet Reno
Reno said the fraud was the biggest ever
A statement issued by the department said two subsidiaries of HCA - the largest hospital chain in the United States - have also agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges including fraudulent billing to Medicare.

Officials from the department told a news conference in Washington DC that the agreement resolved all corporate criminal liability, but the government still can investigate and prosecute any individuals.

The attorney general said the case was the largest health care fraud investigation in American history.

HCA, which before May was known as Columbia/HCA Healthcare, was the target of a 1997 FBI raid at several offices, in which authorities seized records about billing for Medicare.

HCA said the settlement was subject to various approvals and conditions, but did not elaborate.

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