When is a press briefing not a press briefing? When the point of the briefing is to get reporters to answer questions.
That's what happened recently in Washington when Willis Gradison, president of the Health Insurance Association of America, and Patrick Hays, president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, summoned reporters to the HIAA's headquarters.
Gradison and Hays started the meeting by announcing that they had no news for the dozen or so reporters. Then, joining the hand-wringing that has taken the managed-care industry by storm, they began asking why the reporters present thought the managed-care industry gets such bad press. Hays likened the phrase "managed care" to an "epithet" in press coverage. Notably absent were representatives of the American Association of Health Plans, the chief managed-care industry group.
Reporters highlighted such issues that have given HMOs a black eye as so-called "drive-through deliveries" and "gag clauses" in contracts between providers and HMOs. Gradison and Hays defended the industry's practices in both cases.
But Outliers wonders why the industry would choose to question reporters about public image issues. After all, given that the public often judges reporters to be about as trustworthy as politicians, used-car salesmen or convicted felons, the managed-care industry's problems may be deeper than we imagined.
The $364 million federal relief package negotiated last fall as part of Los Angeles County's Medicaid waiver looked mighty good to New York City's public healthcare advocates. Could they snag a similar "L.A.-style bailout" on behalf of the cash-starved New York City Health and Hospitals Corp.?
Outliers has learned that union leaders, joined by city and state officials, held court with HCFA Administrator Bruce Vladeck in Washington several weeks ago to float such a proposal. HCFA has not commented, but sources familiar with the discussion said a federal quick-fix is highly unlikely.
For one thing, New York state lawmakers passed a hospital deregulation law this month that is less onerous for hospitals than expected, so HHC is no longer in imminent danger of collapse. Secondly, state officials desperately want HCFA to deliver final terms and conditions on its Medicaid waiver proposal, which is seen as a longer-term solution to providing care to the poor.
Placido Domingo, one of the famed Three Tenors, may have thrilled concert-goers in the New York area last week, but it was apparently at the expense of St. Paul Medical Center in Dallas.
Domingo was a no-show for a 100th-anniversary gala at Dallas' Reunion Arena also scheduled for last week.
The fund-raiser was planned months in advance to herald the Catholic facility's 100th anniversary on July 16. St. Paul spent nearly $400,000 lining up sponsors, printing tickets and programs, and reserving the hall where Domingo was set to perform to a sold-out crowd of 14,000.
But last month, Domingo canceled, saying he had an "impromptu rehearsal" to get ready for the Three Tenors concert July 20 at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Now, St. Paul is suing, citing the "arrogance and greed" of Domingo and his U.S. agent, Hoffman Concerts of New York. Hoffman also was the exclusive promoter of the Three Tenors concert. The lawsuit illustrates how such fund-raisers can be high-stakes games for tax-exempt hospitals. St. Paul's foundation gave Domingo an advance of $185,535. Hoffman and St. Paul were to split the profits from the affair, although the lawsuit said Hoffman would receive the "lion's share." Even so, St. Paul anticipated taking in at least $500,000 for "desperately needed funding of the medical training programs," the lawsuit says.
Now, St. Paul is asking for proceeds from the Three Tenors event, saying that Hoffman and Domingo decided to stay in New York rather than perform in Dallas.
Meanwhile, St. Paul says Hoffman has not returned the advance money, and instead of an apology the hospital received a stern letter threatening to sue the Roman Catholic charity if it damaged the "image or reputation of Mr. Domingo, whether done publicly through the press or privately." Attorneys for Hoffman were unavailable for comment.
As hospital executives rack their brains to find uses for their Web sites, one hospital has come up with an idea that's bound to be imitated.
Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, N.J., has created the CyberNursery on its Web site, allowing new parents' relatives and friends around the globe to view pictures of the wee one even before it leaves the hospital.
On a recent day, 14 baby pictures were posted on the site at http: www.holyname.org/cyber/nursery.htm. It also gives the baby's weight, length and birth date, along with names of the delivering physicians and a message from the parents. Visitors to the site can e-mail their congratulations to the family.
The idea was born when some information systems employees began tinkering with a digital camera, which the hospital had bought to take pictures of employees for ID badges and a human resources database. "It was clear to me this had an applicability to our Web site," said hospital Web master Paul Mendelowitz, M.D., whose official title is director of medical outpatient services.
To launch their offspring on the Web, parents are asked to make a tax-deductible donation of $35 to join the hospital's Baby Alumni Club, Mendelowitz said. He said the pictures probably will stay on-line for a year. Parents will be able to renew the membership with another digital picture on the child's first birthday.