For George Pillari of HCIA, it was an opportunity to tout a new publicly traded company.
For Randy Brown of Medaphis Corp., it was a time to discuss some dirty laundry and potentially hang it out to dry.
And for Larry Ellis, senior vice president of Providence Hospital in Columbia, S.C., it was a chance to learn more about what makes the investor-owned sector of healthcare tick.
They were among the 30 corporate presenters and 426 investors, lawyers, accountants, bankers and healthcare managers attending the recent Robinson-Humphrey Co. healthcare conference in Atlanta. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) was featured as the luncheon speaker in a live TV link-up from Washington.
"These are sophisticated businesspeople who are interested in learning more about the infrastructure for risk sharing in healthcare," said John Runningen, first vice president of Robinson-Humphrey.
Between presentations, Pillari mentioned that his high-flying healthcare information company, based in Baltimore, hasn't received much exposure from the financial press since going public in February. Medaphis' Brown warned him that "sometimes it's good to be ignored."
The affable Brown was referring to the ongoing federal investigation of billing and collection practices at two Medaphis offices in California. Brown said his company is cooperating fully in the probe.
Atlanta-based Medaphis, the leader in the highly fragmented billing, accounts receivable and business management sector, said the negative news hasn't slowed the company's acquisition hunger.
"It's a funny thing; we'd prefer to pay cash for our acquisitions," he said. "But all of our partners want to be paid in Medaphis stock. That tells you something about the future of this company."
Robinson-Humphrey is not the only investment firm hoping to capitalize on the boom in for-profit healthcare. Runningen has a list of 33 major healthcare investment conferences that were scheduled between June of this year and January 1996.
For instance, Piper Jaffray held a healthcare services conference in September that drew 19 presenters and 270 institutional investors to the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. HCFA boss Bruce Vladeck delivered the keynote address.
Alex. Brown & Sons, Bear Stearns & Co., Smith Barney, and Robertson, Stephens & Co. are just a few of the other investment firms that hold annual medical conferences. The format of each investment conference is essentially the same. A dizzying series of 45-minute company presentations usually conducted by the CEO, CFO or other senior officer sandwiched around tasty meals and big-name speakers in a top-drawer venue.
San Francisco-based Montgomery Securities presents the mother of all investment conferences. The 25th annual event was held last month in the City by the Bay. Included were presentations from nearly 100 companies, including 28 healthcare firms. The 1,800 registrants also enjoyed big-name entertainers such as Chuck Berry, Frankie Avalon, Bill Cosby, Alabama, and Earth, Wind & Fire.
Whether it's Wall Street, Capitol Hill or Main Street U.S.A., healthcare is creating a buzz. Hungry investors are trying to soak up as much information as possible in hopes of reaping big profits. By acting as a conference sponsor, an investment firm, brokerage house or bond underwriter hopes to assume a position of leadership in healthcare finance.
Community Health Systems has a simple game plan, something many investors at the Robinson-Humphrey conference found appealing.
"We're here for the exposure and the opportunity to meet with a versatile audience that includes investors in the company," said Merilyn Herbert, Community's director of investor relations.
Community, which operates 41 hospitals in 17 states, pinpoints "non-urban markets" with no serious competition in healthcare delivery. The Nashville, Tenn.-based company is especially keen on counties with populations in the 30,000 to 60,000 range and minimal HMO penetration.
"We enhance quality and increase services by building a system for everything but tertiary care," said Deborah Moffett, Community's senior vice president and CFO. Once a local network is developed, employers are offered small discounts, and a tertiary partner is selected. Partners are expected to offer 30% discounts.
Moffett says Community will complete as many as four acquisitions a year but only after locations are selected that fit the company profile.
"The demographics and market conditions must be right," she said. "We can fix a hospital, but we can't fix a town."
Ellis, of Providence Hospital in Columbia was especially interested in Community's partnering strategy.
"Community owns Elliott White Springs Memorial Hospital in Lancaster, S.C., which is about 60 miles from Columbia," Ellis said. "I plan to contact them about our cardiac program."
Ellis also wanted to learn more about Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., which hopes to acquire Providence as part of its controversial deal to buy Cleveland-based Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine Health System.
"Actually, I have a pretty good handle on Columbia," Ellis said. "We do business with or compete with some of the other companies (that made presentations at the Robinson-Humphrey meeting). I found it interesting that these companies talk differently with investors than they do in the marketplace."
Ellis, who has spent 17 years with not-for-profit Providence, "was fascinated by the strategies and how the companies look at market share."