With healthcare surpassing tourism as Florida's biggest industry, it's no wonder that healthcare lobbyists have become the largest contributors to state legislators' campaigns.
In a five-part series, the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, a New York Times Co.-owned newspaper, laid out a case that the Florida Legislature has been "bought by the medical lobby."
The newspaper didn't find a smoking gun in its revealing look at where influence money is going, but it did pose a question some legislators may have asked themselves: "If you (accept cash), will you go to prison? If not, it's OK."
In 1994, healthcare organizations contributed nearly $2.1 million to legislators. Lawyers gave less than half that amount. Insurance companies, real estate, parimutuel and construction companies were well down the list of contributors. Of that $2.1 million, $1.7 million came from political action committees formed by hospitals, doctors, HMOs and other medical groups.
Leading the way was Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., which owns nearly 30% of the state's 224 hospitals. Through Columbia's "Good Government Group" PAC, a total of $216,000 was doled out to legislators on both parties.
One Democrat quoted in the Herald-Tribune, Rep. Vernon Peeples of Punta Gorda, said: "What you're running into is the possibility, if not the probability, that Columbia is so big now you can't successfully fight them."
So far, Columbia has registered 13 paid lobbyists to fight and protect its interests this legislative year, which begins its three-month session March 1.
In its editorial, the Herald-Tribune concluded: "The whole Florida Legislature has a big ethical problem as a result of its sellout. The most outrageous aspect of the matter is that, under Florida law, it may not have a legal problem."
What are the odds of a $176 million mental healthcare provider devising a capital finance plan dazzling enough to outshine several multibillion-dollar corporations in a contest measuring financial ingenuity?
Unlikely as it seems, the Devereux Foundation, a national not-for-profit provider of mental health and developmental disabilities services, walked away recently with a gold medal from the first Alexander Hamilton Awards.
The Devon, Pa.-based 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, winner in the corporate finance category, beat out pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co. and the global natural resource company Freeport-McMoran, which placed second and third, respectively. The award is sponsored by Treasury & Risk Management magazine and the National Association of Corporate Treasurers.
In April 1994, Devereux was in the process of losing $4 million from operations for the third consecutive year, and its bankers were threatening not to renew the company's $22 million credit facility, according to Robert Q. Kreider, the company's senior vice president of finance and chief operating officer. At the time, Kreider worked for Philadelphia-based Fairmont Capital Advisors and Devereux was his client, but he was hired later that year to deploy his turnaround strategy.
Devereux's contest entry details Kreider's ambitious eight-point plan for mending the company's access-to-capital problems. The plan featured numerous financial maneuvers aimed at reducing the company's reliance on the $22 million credit facility, shoring up the income statement and lowering its cost of capital. Last December, with an aptly timed offering of $47 million in AAA-rated tax-exempt debt, Devereux reduced its interest rate on long-term debt from a range of 8% to 9% to a low 5.7%.
The Florida Medical Association and Sprint Corp. have signed an agreement that could allow more than 17,000 physicians access to the Internet.
For $19.95 a month, which includes a 15% discount if physicians pay a year ahead, Florida docs can surf the Net for an unlimited amount of time, said Steve Shafer, an FMA spokesman.
A Sprint official said the company plans to expand its Internet service nationwide. "We are first targeting associations, and hope to replicate this elsewhere," said Mark Powell, Sprint's senior account executive in Florida.
In Florida, physicians will be able to use the Net to take continuing education exams, register for conferences and review the latest medical research in their specialty, Shafer said. "We will also have (Internet) access to medical school libraries, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention), HFCA, HHS and many other pages our doctors want," Shafer said.
The FMA also is assisting physicians in buying their first computer. "You'd be surprised how many (physicians) don't have a computer," he said, noting that the FMA has helped three doctors purchase their first hardware.
So far, 500 physicians have signed up, with 5,000 projected by the end of the year, Shafer said.
It may not make anyone forget the landscapes of Ansel Adams or the portraits of Annie Liebowitz but the Corcoran Gallery of Art, a museum of contemporary American art in Washington, will host a first-of-its-kind exhibit of photographs of hospice care beginning March 9.
The exhibit, which includes works by five American photographers and a documentary film produced by cable giant HBO, will tour 13 cities later this year.
One of the photographers chronicled the last days of his father, who died on Christmas Day, 1993. Another photographer followed a hospice nurse through her day, and another caught the day-to-day action at the Cabrini Hospice in New York City.
The documentary, titled "Letting Go: A Hospice Journey," follows the end-of-life battles of three patients, and also follows hospice workers as they chart the optimal course of medical and emotional care for each patient.
While the Group Health Association of America/American Managed Care Review Association, soon to be the American Association of Health Plans, has eschewed the suddenly politically incorrect term "managed care," another organization has embraced the concept.
The Association of Managed Healthcare Organizations is the new name of the former American Association of Preferred Provider Organizations. According to President Gordon Wheeler, the change reflects the expansion of the group's members into managed-care models beyond PPOs.