American Hospital Association officials who crowed about being mentioned by President Clinton during the first presidential debate found out after the second confrontation that fame comes with a price.
The AHA got caught in the middle of a partisan squabble between Clinton, who used (some would say misused) data furnished by the AHA to claim that 700 hospitals would have closed if the Republican budget plan had passed, and GOP leaders, who took offense at the attack on their plan.
The president's claim was based on AHA testimony that there were 700 hospitals that derive two-thirds of their revenues from government programs and that some would have to close if the GOP plan was enacted.
Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), who last year blasted the AHA for attacking the GOP budget, again came out swinging. "Your silence in light of the Clinton-Gore campaign's latest manipulation of your position sends the signal . . . that your Washington office simply isn't concerned if you're used for partisan political gain," Boehner wrote in a press letter.
The GOP pressure caused AHA officials to publicly renounce the president's statements. AHA spokesman Richard Wade said the association "never said 700 hospitals would close." In a letter to Boehner, AHA President Richard Davidson said the association had talked to White House officials but could not control how the information was used.
A spokesman for Boehner said GOP leaders were satisfied that the Clinton-Gore campaign, not the AHA, was culpable but added it was "still clear that (the AHA is) unwilling to take the president on."
As the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Justice Department spent much of this year rewriting their antitrust guidelines for physician networks, the American Medical Association kept up a drumbeat of support of a more expansive antitrust relief bill sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.).
Their advocacy of the Hyde bill continued even after the FTC and the Justice Department published their guidelines in August (Sept. 2, p. 4).
So Outliers was a bit surprised to see the cover of the Oct. 21 edition of the AMA's American Medical News. Under the somewhat hyperbolic headline, "Doctors win big in Washington," the publication of the antitrust guidelines was listed as the AMA's top public-policy accomplishment.
AMA officials claimed their advocacy of the Hyde bill prompted publication of the guideline revisions. They said nothing about whether the AMA will lobby for the Hyde bill next year.
Another provider group lobbyist said the AMA deserves to claim a victory, although the group is taking more credit than it should. But the lobbyist added that trying to convince members that it's worthwhile to keep paying dues "is what trade groups do all the time."
A trustee of Cleveland-area Meridia Health System has some potentially embarrassing information about Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Ohio. But the Blues won't let him sing.
Meridia Vice Chairman Ivan J. Winfield served on the Ohio Blues board for several months until he quit in December 1995, during the time the health plan was negotiating to sell its assets to Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. According to Winfield's resignation letter, which was leaked to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Winfield resigned because he believed the structure and expenses of the proposed sale were unfair to policyholders.
Winfield might have objected to $4.2 million in early retirement benefits for the independent trustees, which were paid around the time the deal was approved in March, according to court testimony this month.
Winfield accused the Ohio Blues of misstating his reasons for quitting and asked to be released from a confidentiality agreement so he could set the record straight. The Ohio Blues refused.
Smelling blood, forces opposing the sale have been trying to compel his testimony. Winfield has been served with subpoenas to testify in three lawsuits and an Ohio Department of Insurance investigation, said his attorney, David Kutik.
Winfield is willing to testify only if a judge decides he should, Kutik said. "Blue Cross has indicated they believe Mr. Winfield has a continuing duty of confidence to the company, and Mr. Winfield isn't going to take issue with that," he said.
So long.Outliers sends a personal farewell and good luck to AHA spokesman Bill Erwin, who is leaving the association after six years to become the media director at the Washington-based consumer group Families USA. Erwin will start his new job Nov. 11. He had been senior associate director for media relations at the AHA.
Although there have been some dicey moments between the AHA and reporters covering the association, Erwin was always pleasant, unflappable and easy to work with.
"Needleless" to say, the thought of having a painless vaccination is straight out of science fiction.
However, as with many things, science fiction has become science fact. Powderject, a no-needle vaccination system pioneered by Oxford (U.K.) BioSciences, is a small gas gun that blasts powdered drugs through the skin at three times the speed of sound.
The device operates by a button-controlled valve that allows pressurized helium to enter a chamber. At the end of this chamber is a membrane cartridge coated with a powdered drug. The prototypes of this system are throwaway units costing about $1.60.
The company is developing a reusable system that would be much cheaper for large-scale immunizations. Some immunization programs in Third World countries have a major problem with keeping vaccines cold. Unlike liquid vaccines, powdered drugs do not have to be refrigerated.
If the clinical trials, which are to take place at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, are successful, the system could be used for 90% of injections, including vaccinations and insulin. It won't be suitable for high-volume injections that require an intravenous drip or where deep intramuscular delivery is needed.