Health Management Associates ( HMA) set plans Wednesday to return $2.4 billion to shareholders through a $10-a-share special dividend.

The Naples, Fla., hospital chain also reaffirmed fourth-quarter targets, saying it expects to make 28 cents to 29 cents a share before special items on revenue of $1.05 billion. Analysts were looking for a 29-cent profit on sales of $1.01 billion.

But HMA guided sharply lower for 2007, citing tighter guidelines for recognizing and writing off revenue tied to uninsured patients. It expects to make 61 cents to 71 cents a share on revenue of around $4.1 billion. Analysts were looking for a profit of $1.34 a share on revenue of $4.32 billion.

HMA said the fourth quarter will be hit by a bad debt charge of $200 million, or 50 cents a share, as the company writes off the value of care provided to uninsured patients.

HMA will recapitalize its balance sheet through $3.25 billion of new senior secured credit facilities, including the refinancing of amounts outstanding under the company's current revolving line of credit. The $3.25 billion senior secured credit facilities, which are prepayable without penalty, consist of a seven-year, $2.75 billion term loan and a $500 million, six-year revolving credit facility (expected to be unfunded at closing), which will be secured by a portion of the company's assets.

The company said it doesn't expect to buy back any stock, "except in the event of significant undervaluation" of its shares. It suspended its 6-cent quarterly dividend.

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