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For-profit fraud and soaring health costs?

These days, Obamacare is a favorite target as being responsible for the soaring cost of health care. But if the fraud alleged in a lawsuit unsealed in December is true, critics should point their fingers at for-profit hospital organizations too.

Two Charlotte-area emergency room doctors allege in a lawsuit now joined by the U.S. Justice Department that two area hospitals and the for-profit company that owns them, Health Management Associates, offered them illegal kickbacks to order unnecessary tests and admit more patients to increase corporate revenues.

HMA denies the charges, with its lawyer, Kirk Ogrosky, describing HMA protocols as “good practice” and “good management.”

Still, HMA was the subject of a “60 Minutes” investigation in 2012 where a number of doctors and other former HMA employees raised similar complaints, alleging that the company aggressively pressured doctors to admit a certain percentage of patients from the emergency room, regardless of whether it was medically necessary.

The two area doctors making charges would be in a position to know the situation: Thomas Mason was Mooresville’s Lake Norman Regional Medical Center emergency department medical director from 1997 to 2010. Steven Folstad was medical director at Statesville’s Davis Regional Medical Center emergency department from 2000 to 2008. Both said their group’s contracts were terminated after they refused to accept “illegal cash inducements” or be pressured to meet benchmarks to maximize profits.

If what the two and the Justice Department claim is true, such actions are pure greed. They are reprehensible and costly to U.S. taxpayers – and should be roundly punished.

Do change that dial!

It’s an election year, which guarantees at least one thing: Politicians will be invading your television with 30-second ads. And in North Carolina especially, it won’t just be politicians; it will be outside special interest groups with deep pockets and skin in the game.

The conservative group Americans For Prosperity is currently running $1.4 million of ads across the state hitting Sen. Kay Hagan for her support of Obamacare. Republican Thom Tillis is spending $300,000 to air ads in Asheville, the Triad and Wilmington, arguing that Hagan “enabled President Obama’s worst ideas.”

Outside groups have already spent $9.7 million on this race. Such groups from all political bents are expected to try to steer the outcomes of races for the N.C. Supreme Court and other seats as well.

Both parties know ads hitting one’s opponent usually work. There’s nothing wrong with informing voters about your opponent’s record, or distinguishing your views from theirs. But many such ads stretch the truth, and pretty much all of them lack context.

What’s a voter to do? Not all voters will work to understand the nuances and the truth. But we have faith that you, dear editorial readers, are the kind of folks who will. Look for truth-squading of ads from the Observer and other outlets, educate yourself and – at a bare minimum – know that much of what you’re hearing is not as black and white as it sounds.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

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