HCA's ( HCA) second-quarter earnings jumped 46% from a year ago, helped by a recalculation of its malpractice reserve, higher revenue and the absence of asset writedowns that weighed on the year-ago quarter.

The Nashville, Tenn.-based hospital operator earned $352 million, or 72 cents a share, in the three months to June 30, compared with earnings of $240 million, or 47 cents a share, last year. The 2004 quarter included a gain related to professional liability reserves totaling $59 million, or 7 cents a share. Revenue rose 6.7% to $5.83 billion.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were forecasting earnings of 65 cents a share on revenue of 5.87 billion in the quarter.

While posting a 6.8% jump in same-facility revenue in the second quarter, HCA continued to be plagued by the cost of treating uninsured patients in emergency rooms. HCA said its provision for doubtful accounts was $661 million, or 11.3% of revenue, in the second quarter, compared with $694 million, or 11.7%, in the first quarter and $577 million, or 10.6%, a year ago.

"The sequential improvement in bad debt expense, while positive, represents just one data point of improvement in the bad debt equation, and many macroeconomic issues remain for the health care industry," HCA said. "However, we have identified many improvements in our internal processes that we feel can help mitigate these costs. We also remain confident that the capital deployed in our facilities and the commitment of our employees to deliver quality health care services continue to enhance our position for the future."

Same-facility uninsured emergency room visits rose 16.9% in the second quarter from last year, while same-facility uninsured admissions rose 15.2%.

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