updated 6/11/2004 11:02:12 AM ET 2004-06-11T15:02:12

Tenet Healthcare Corp. could pay more than $1 billion to settle federal probes and hundreds of claims that doctors at its Redding hospital performed unnecessary heart surgeries, a newspaper reported Friday.

The nation's second-largest for-profit hospital chain is in preliminary discussions with government officials and lawyers representing more than 750 patients, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing sources familiar with the talks.

Calls to Tenet seeking comment were not immediately answered before working hours Friday. However, Tenet spokesman Harry Anderson told the Times that talks were in a preliminary stage and the company did not expect to reach any settlements in the near future.

"Tenet's new management team is attempting to resolve all issues related to its past pricing strategy and other matters," Anderson told the newspaper. "We believe we have made significant progress in ... our conversations with the government and others."

"Speculation about the shape and size of any settlements, however, is very premature," he added.

Tenet's practices, including its handling of Medicare billing, have been scrutinized for 18 months. The company already agreed to pay $54 million to settle government allegations that two doctors at its hospital in Redding performed unnecessary heart surgeries.

The Santa Barbara-based company announced in March that it had agreed to pay $30.75 million to settle an investigation involving a Tenet-owned hospital in Florida and a second nationwide probe.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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