Clash of Giants
No trial date had been set for what some reporters and stock analysts were calling the “Business Trial of the Century,” HCA's challenge of the civil qui tam lawsuit I filed. Court documents revealed that my army of attorneys intended to depose at least seventy-eight current and former Columbia/HCA officials, thirty-eight of them from the company's corporate level.
Depositions would start in January 2002 and were scheduled to end in June. The list of those to be deposed included Dr. Thomas Frist, Jr., the company's former CEO who'd retired in December 2001; the company's current chairman and CEO, Jack Bovender; former CEO Rick Scott; and former HCA Chairman Clayton McWhorter.
The Justice Department was rumored in press reports to have offered to settle the cost reporting case for $800 million, or double the alleged fraud damages. HCA had reportedly rejected the offer. HCA spokesman Jeffrey Prescott said, “We know what this case is worth.” While he wouldn't identify the company's price tag for settling, it appeared that the company hoped to pay no more than one single year's earnings to resolve the allegations. He confirmed that HCA was pursuing a dual legal strategy, preparing for trial at the same time that it hoped for a settlement.
Why was HCA fighting this issue so hard? Did it think the $845 million payment from its earlier partial settlement would satisfy the government? Did the company believe it could outlast the government? Or did HCA officials believe that the change in presidential leadership in Wash-