Prices for acute-care hospital services dropped 0.1% in September, according to the U.S. Labor Department's Producer Price Index released late last week. The PPI measures changes in net revenues, or wholesale prices, per episode of care. For the 12-month period ended in September, hospital prices were up 2.3%, the government said. Prices for physician services also dropped 0.1% last month and were up just 0.3% for the 12 months ended Sept. 30.
Registered nurses at New York's Presbyterian Hospital have ratified a new three-year contract, settling a long-running dispute over the hospital's hiring of unlicensed personnel. The contract, approved by a 4-1 margin, "greatly restricts" the hospital's ability to replace RNs with unlicensed workers, according to the New York State Nurses Association, which represents 1,500 RNs at Presbyterian, part of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. In July, nurses held a one-day strike, protesting what they said was management's refusal to bargain on job security issues. The nurses union also filed a series of unfair labor practice charges against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board, all of which had been withdrawn by the union or dropped by the NLRB. Presbyterian's nurses had been working without a contract since Dec. 31.
Aetna said last week it will close 30 health claims processing centers and cut 4,400 jobs, or 13% of its work force, as it switches over the next two years to a regional approach to providing managed care. The move follows Aetna's $9 billion merger this summer with U.S. Healthcare, which created the nation's largest for-profit health insurance provider, serving 23 million customers. Aetna is moving away from a highly decentralized way of running its healthcare business, a system that had been favored by the old, multiline insurers. It's shifting to a regional model successfully used by U.S. Healthcare and other HMOs. The number of its primary service centers, where claims are processed, will drop to 12 from from 42. The company also said it will take a $275 million charge in the fourth quarter related to the reorganization of the health business.