Outliers would like to apologize to the members of the House Ways and Means Committee for unfairly suggesting that their behavior is the looniest Congress has ever seen (Oct. 2, p. 108).
Given the shenanigans that accompanied the committee's initial consideration of the Republican leadership's Medicare reform legislation, we thought that more outlandish conduct would not be possible. But politics is called "the art of the possible," after all, and the House Commerce Committee's initial take on the bill amply demonstrates that axiom.
First, Commerce Republicans retooled the House Budget Committee's "national debt clock" into a "Medicare countdown to bankruptcy clock," ticking off the seconds until the Medicare Part A trust fund becomes insolvent. That prompted Democrats to object that it made the hearing room look like "Times Square at midnight" or "The Price Is Right."
Next, Republican committee members pointed to numerous computer-generated wall charts to score points before the C-SPAN cameras. Democratic staff members, markers in hand, countered by lettering their own signs and hanging them next to the countdown clock, where the cameras could see them. One sign said the Republicans' GOP nickname now stands for "Get Old People."
Finally, Rep. Edward Whitfield (R-Ky.) invited several supporters of the Seniors Coalition, a pro-Medicare reform group, to carry in bags full of telegrams supporting the Republican plan. That prompted Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) to shout above the din that a Republican direct-mail fund-raiser was using the group "to steal from senior citizens," while Commerce Chairman Thomas Bliley Jr. (R-Va.) tried in vain to gavel the meeting back to order. Democrats ultimately walked out.
Stick 'em up.A new handgun law in Texas is causing hospitals to jump through yet another bureaucratic hoop.
The Texas Legislature earlier this year passed a law that allows certain individuals to carry a concealed handgun, except in some locations-including hospitals. However, it's not enough to have that stipulation in the law; hospitals must remind every gun-toting Texan who approaches their doors that he or she is not welcome.
Effective last month, hospitals are required to post at every entrance a sign warning: "Carrying a handgun is prohibited on these premises." The signs must be in both English and Spanish, with words in large block letters that are at least one inch high.
No D&O.Community Psychiatric Centers paid the price last week for not having liability insurance for it's directors and officers: $45 million.
The Las Vegas-based chain found that like any insurance coverage, you don't really miss it until you need it. In fact, the company's lack of coverage is unusual.
According to a 1993 survey by Wyatt Co., a benefits and compensation consulting firm, 90.5% of tax-exempt hospitals carry directors and officers liability insurance, known in the trade as "D&O" coverage. In addition, 95% of publicly traded companies surveyed by Wyatt also carry D&O.
CPC's payout resulted from a 1991 shareholder lawsuit against the company, its directors and top executives over a slide in its stock price to $12 from $40 after CPC reported a 98% drop in profits. CPC had to write off millions of dollars in uncollected bills in the wake of investigations into fraud in the psychiatric industry.
The cost of D&O coverage can vary widely. However, "I'm pretty sure it would have been cheaper than $45 million," joked Jeff Gauthier, senior vice president in the executive liability division of Great American Insurance Co., Schaumburg, Ill.
Gauthier noted that "a lot of outside directors won't sit on boards" if the company doesn't carry D&O. "They don't want to risk their personal assets," he said.
Systemic thinking.Hospital is out and health system is in for Oak Brook-based University Hospital Consortium. The growing alliance of 70 academic medical centers is now known as University HealthSystem Consortium.
"This name more accurately reflects our membership, including physicians, administrators and other providers," said Robert Baker, UHC's president and chief executive officer.
Known for years as primarily a purchasing organization, UHC has diversified. The consortium's efforts to assist academic medical centers in competing in the managed-care marketplace helped it add nine new members in the last two years. The health system designation also is more reflective of what academic medical centers are doing.
In fact, Outliers hears more academic medical centers may favor UHC's menu of services and bail out of other hospital organizations. University of Michigan Hospitals, for example, departed from the American Hospital Association but remained in UHC.
ACHE's new boss.The American College of Healthcare Executives has a new chairman, Garth A.H. Pierce, the third Canadian to hold the post in the college's history.
Pierce's personal history with the ACHE dates to 1966 when he was urged to join by his former boss, G. Harvey Agnew, an honorary charter fellow of the college. Agnew hired Pierce as a hospital consultant for Agnew Peckham & Associates, Toronto.
"I have never regretted the decision (to join the college). The ACHE has been responsible for my lifelong commitment to learning," Pierce said. Almost 20 years later, Pierce has moved up the ladder by serving as regent, governor, chairman-elect and now as chairman.