Company News: Nursing Homes, Johnson & Johnson, Berkshire Hathaway

Nursing homes: Overcharging for care

For-profit nursing homes are more likely to overbill taxpayers for treatments patients don’t need or never receive, according to a November report by U.S. federal health inspectors. The study found that 30 percent of claims submitted by for-profit homes were improper, compared with 12 percent for nonprofits. Investor-owned facilities control more than three-quarters of the $105 billion nursing-home market and typically earn a 20 percent profit margin on Medicare patients, compared with 9 percent for nonprofit operators. Federal prosecutors brought 120 now-resolved civil and criminal cases against nursing homes from 2008 to 2012, twice the number of the prior five years.

Johnson & Johnson: A pill to treat TB

Johnson & Johnson won accelerated federal approval for its tablet Sirturo, the first new treatment against tuberculosis in 40 years. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared Sirturo for use by adults whose illness is resistant to existing drugs. The expedited approval was based on the second of what are typically three clinical trials, an option the FDA has when a drug fills an unmet need. There were as many as 400,000 new cases of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis in 2011, according to the World Health Organization.

Berkshire Hathaway: Chasing the sun

Berkshire Hathaway’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings agreed to buy two adjacent solar projects in California that are set to be the world’s largest photovoltaic development and begin operation by 2016. Warren Buffett’s utility is paying panelmaker SunPower $2 billion to $2.5 billion for the 579-megawatt Antelope Valley projects. The price includes construction, maintenance, and operation. Buffett has been increasing investment in wind and solar energy.

Goldman Sachs: An early payout for the top brass

Goldman Sachs Group accelerated delivery of $65 million in stock awards to 10 executives, including Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein, helping them avoid higher tax rates that take effect this year. The awards are of restricted stock granted for years prior to 2012, according to 10 separate filings made public on Dec. 31. Goldman typically delivers executives’ restricted stock in January. Each executive sold between 45 percent and 50 percent of their allotment to pay taxes, according to the December filings.

Steelmakers: A new wave of U.S. plants

Lured by cheap natural gas, steelmakers are investing in the U.S. At least five plants are under consideration or being built that would use gas instead of coal to purify iron ore, the main ingredient in steel. Nucor plans to break ground on a $750 million Louisiana project in mid-2013, while Austrian steelmaker Voestalpine says it may build a $661 million plant in the U.S. The new capacity may signal a turnaround for an industry that has struggled to stay profitable amid depressed prices and competition from Chinese imports.

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