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HCA Misses

Hospitals continue to have a tough time.


(HCA) - Get HCA Healthcare Inc Report

can soon keep its bad news to itself.

The giant hospital chain issued its final quarterly report Friday, ahead of a planned leveraged buyout. The results, hurt by weak admissions and bad debt from the uninsured, looked ugly.

Revenue rose just 3% to $6.2 billion, missing Wall Street expectations. Net income slid 14% to $240 million. Meanwhile, earnings per share of 58 cents -- even with help from special items -- fell 7 cents short of the consensus estimate.

HCA continues to suffer from a falloff in patients who pay their bills.

During the latest quarter, HCA's same-facility admissions inched up just 0.1%, with same-facility equivalent admissions -- including lucrative outpatient cases -- actually sliding. Same-facility outpatient surgeries dropped 2.8%, as fewer patients sought operations in the company's hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers alike.

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In contrast, uninsured patients continued to visit the company's facilities in ever-growing numbers. Uninsured admissions rose 10% in the latest quarter. As a result, write-offs for bad debt expense and charity care keep climbing higher. Bad debt expense, when coupled with discounts for the uninsured, totaled nearly 15% of revenue in the recent period.

HCA did manage to collect higher prices from those who do pay their bills. Because of those hikes, same-facility revenue increased by 5.4% and same-facility revenue per equivalent admission rose an even stronger 6.4% during the third quarter.

HCA's demand for higher prices has backfired in some markets, however. Notably,


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refused to pay the higher rates at many HCA facilities. In response, HCA withdrew those hospitals from UnitedHealth's network and lost some business as a result.

HCA recently sold two of those hospitals. Both have since inked fresh deals with UnitedHealth, according to the health insurer's latest conference call.

Shares of HCA, supported by a $51 buyout offer, slipped 11 cents to $50.26 on Friday. Investors are set to formally cast their votes on the LBO in a special meeting next month.