Two members of Congress with sharply differing views on how to reform the U.S. healthcare system had investments in for-profit hospital giant Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. in 1995, according to financial disclosure reports.
Not surprisingly, Sen. William Frist (R-Tenn.) owns substantial blocks of stock in Columbia, the nation's largest hospital company. Frist's brother and father founded Hospital Corporation of America, which merged with Columbia in 1994, creating a company that now operates more than 300 hospitals.
Along with his wife and children, Frist reported owning at least $13.9 million in Columbia stock in 1995.
Frist and his family sold at least $6.4 million in Columbia stock in 1995, according to his financial disclosure report.
Frist supported efforts by the Republican congressional leadership to balance the federal budget through a series of changes that would have squeezed $202 billion from Medicare over seven years.
But the surprise investor in Nashville, Tenn.-based Columbia is Rep. James McDermott (D-Wash.). A Seattle psychiatrist and advocate of a national single-payer healthcare system, McDermott bought $85,000 worth of Columbia commercial paper in 1995 and earned $447.64 from those holdings, according to his financial disclosure report.
When asked about his Columbia investments, McDermott said he was unaware of them and said he has a financial counselor who "moves money around" for him.
McDermott said he's told the counselor not to invest in tobacco companies, but has not restricted investments in for-profit healthcare companies.
"They're a publicly traded company," McDermott said of Columbia. "That's good enough."
The healthcare investments were revealed in an analysis of the annual financial disclosures of members of the congressional leadership, chairs of key healthcare-related committees or subcommittees, and members who come from a healthcare background or have been active in developing healthcare policy.
Nothing prohibits members of Congress from owning stock or other interest in the companies that are affected by federal policy. But some watchdog groups say members' policy decisions are influenced by whether they stand to benefit financially through their investments.
"It's got to have an effect," said Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group.
Healthcare interest groups also paid those key members of Congress for speeches and reimbursed them for travel and other costs for making speeches at conferences and conventions. The speaking fees must be contributed to charity.
A Nashville heart transplant surgeon, Frist also reported earnings of at least $6,775 from partnerships in medical product and service companies, although he also reported unspecified losses from a Nashville-based family-owned medical service company.
Like his fellow physician Frist, Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) of Muskogee also reported income from healthcare-related partnerships and investments. In 1995, Coburn reported $4,000 in salary from his medical practice, although the practice's S corporation sustained a $7,700 loss.
Coburn continues to see patients while home from Washington.
Now completing his first term, Coburn also earned $19,400 from a partnership in an allergy clinic. Besides his practice, Coburn and his wife in 1995 had at least $366,000 in healthcare-specific investments, including partnerships in medical buildings, clinics and a purchase and sale of at least $1,000 in United HealthCare Corp. stock.
Another doctor, Rep. Greg Ganske (R-Iowa), a Des Moines reconstructive surgeon in his first term in the House, received $14,825 in patient fees in 1995, although his financial disclosure form calls that income "old accounts" from his medical practice.
Healthcare groups, meanwhile, paid more than $40,000 in speaking fees to charities designated by members of Congress who have been influential in developing health policy.
Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee's Medicaid subcommittee, sent to charity his fees from speeches to eight healthcare groups in 1995. Among the groups were the American Health Care Association, the American College of Emergency Physicians and the Group Health Association of America, now the American Association of Health Plans.
Chafee also was reimbursed for travel, lodging and meal expenses for a trip from Washington to Tucson, Ariz., for speaking to a meeting of the Opticians Association of America and the International Hearing Society.
In the House, Rep. William Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the health subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee, gave to charity $8,000 he was paid for speeches to six healthcare groups, including the American Hospital Association. Thomas also received travel reimbursement, meals and lodging for speaking to a New Orleans meeting of the American Group Practice Association, which has been renamed the American Medical Group Association.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), senior Democrat on the Commerce Committee's health subcommittee, sent to charity $8,000 for speeches he made to healthcare groups, including the AHA and the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.
Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.), senior Democrat on the Ways and Means health subcommittee, sent $5,500 in speaking fees to charity for speeches to four healthcare groups, including the Association of American Medical Colleges and the National Association for Medical Equipment Services.