The night after first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed the Democratic convention in Chicago, a lone group of protesters stood outside the hall trying to get the delegates to think healthcare.
Mrs. Clinton's smattering of comments on health-related issues such as the Family and Medical Leave Act and drive-through deliveries apparently wasn't enough for Physicians for a National Health Program. PNHP represents 7,000 physicians and healthcare workers who are critical of for-profit managed care and support universal access to healthcare under a single-payer system.
Four representatives of the group stood in a section along the pathway between the VIP parking lot and the entrance to the United Center. As conventioneers filed by, they passed out brochures and shouted for national healthcare reform to be put back atop the Democratic Party's agenda.
Although their spot was cordoned off by a waist-high fence, PNHP actually had one of the prime protest venues. The city of Chicago had relegated protesters to an expanse of parking lot several blocks from the arena. But PNHP snagged its spot after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court in July on the group's behalf. The ACLU argued that the city's action violated First Amendment free-speech rights. The judge handed down a favorable ruling for the ACLU on Aug. 16.
Other groups also were chosen to demonstrate in the primo space, but on the evening of Aug. 28 PNHP had it all to itself, if not the delegates' full attention.
After four years of heading the American Nurses Association, most people would probably want to go home and just plain collapse.
Not Virginia Trotter Betts. No sooner did she end her second term as ANA president in June than she signed up with the Clinton/Gore campaign. "I think people can draw distinctions and they can clearly see there is a difference between the two parties," she said from her home in Nashville, Tenn.
For Betts, the difference has always been obvious. "I grew up in east Tennessee, which is all Republican." She comes to the campaign through her friendship with a fellow Tennessean, Vice President Al Gore, whom she got to know when he was a congressman in the early 1980s.
At the Democratic convention two weeks ago Betts helped stage events to highlight the distinctions between the Dems' and the Republicans' healthcare agendas. The campaign's healthcare team also identified people who can act as health coordinators in the states. "That's our goal-someone who's really up on the issues," Betts said. The team is setting up a "rapid-response network" of "health provider types who want to be involved in the campaign," she said.
She expects a second Clinton administration to focus on incremental changes that will move toward some of the goals contained in the failed Health Security Act. Better health insurance coverage for the unemployed and voluntary purchasing cooperatives for small business are two initiatives she expects to see pursued.
What does Betts hope to get out of this? Here she grows circumspect: "What I would like to be is a loyal supporter. I really am excited about working in a campaign for people who I believe are on the right track. After the campaign is over, I would be very interested in anything I can do policywise so they achieve the goals they want to achieve."
MedCath, the Charlotte, N.C.-based company attempting to build a string of heart hospitals, has found itself in a public relations skirmish with the Wall Street Journal. The Journal's southeast edition published an article Aug. 28 saying the company's stock "could be headed for a minor relapse."
The article asserted MedCath's recently announced plan to build its fifth facility in Bakersfield, Calif., could create a price war there.
The day the article ran, MedCath dashed off a three-page news release in which President Stephen R. Puckett said MedCath welcomes competition. He said the company intends to be the low-cost provider in Bakersfield and cited data showing Medicare charges for certain procedures were 25% lower at MedCath's only operating hospital, in McAllen, Texas, than at Bakersfield hospitals.
Puckett also noted the Journal supported its thesis with comments from MedCath's anticipated competitors in Bakersfield, including 170-bed Mercy Hospital and 178-bed San Joaquin Community Hospital. "That's a bit like asking Burger King to comment on McDonald's restaurant location strategy," he said.
The release also tried to neutralize the Journal's report that between June 10 and June 12 four MedCath executives, including Puckett and COO David Crane, sold $5.8 million of their company stock. The sale occurred less than 90 days after a public offering, which meant the officials had to obtain special permission from the lead underwriter, Bear Stearns & Co., to sell their shares. MedCath said, "These individuals believe in the future of the company, which is evidenced by their remaining substantial stock holdings."
Outliers has grown weary of announcements of new physician practice management companies. It seems everyone with an ounce of expertise and a need for employment is peddling business acumen to doctors befuddled by managed care.
But one notice stood out. Los Angeles-based Watts Health Systems has formed a for-profit subsidiary that will manage the practices of physicians who serve Medicaid managed-care patients. Watts is a not-for-profit holding company whose organizations are dedicated to improving community health.
WattsHealth Management Co. will acquire, form and manage independent practice associations and medical groups, according to a news release. It also will do consulting and turnaround work.
"To date, other physician practice management companies have not been active in the minority and ethnically diverse provider population," said Clyde Oden, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the Watts Health Foundation and chairman of the new subsidiary. "Our 29 years' experience working with low-income, multicultural and multiethnic populations of Southern California will set us apart from the rest."