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Columbia/HCA posts restructuring losses

Columbia/HCA Health-care Corp. lost $1.29 billion during the fourth quarter as the hospital giant continued a restructuring prompted by a massive federal investigation into its billing practices.

Columbia's revenues dropped 9 percent and the company took $843 million in write-offs during the quarter. The loss remained within analysts' latest expectations, which were revised when the company last week said its loss could reach $1.35 billion, prompting a stock sell-off.The quarterly loss of $2.01 per share on a diluted basis compares with profit of $414 million, or 61 cents a share, in the comparable 1996 quarter.

Revenues from continuing operations for the quarter ended Dec. 31 totaled $4.4 billion, compared with $4.8 billion a year earlier.

"I think they went out of their way to make it as bad as it could be, said Kenneth Abramowitz, an analyst at Sanford Bernstein. "They wrote off everything they could find."

Abramowitz said the company may be hoping that its finances looked so bad at the end of 1997, anything in the future will seem rosy by comparison.

Most of the write-offs - $732 million - were on hospitals and other facilities Columbia hopes to sell. The company also spent $55 million on an internal investigation and severance packages, and $56 million to change accounting practices.