Just as the Medicare reform brawls of 1995 start to fade into memory, interest groups have revived the confrontation on a new, even sillier battleground.
When last we looked, there were brawling congressmen and police hauling senior citizens away in handcuffs from hearings on congressional Republicans' effort to reform Medicare.
The liberal-leaning Americans for Democratic Action and the Republican National Committee are now dueling over the RNC's "Million Dollar Medicare Challenge" of December 1995. The offer was contained in newspaper advertisements in which RNC Chairman Haley Barbour offered $1 million to anybody who could prove that the congressional Republicans' Medicare reform plan of 1995 contained cuts in benefits and not reductions in the growth of Medicare spending.
Eighty people responded to the challenge. And now they have received summonses as defendants in a federal court case filed by the RNC in Mississippi, Barbour's home state. The RNC said its action was a way to avoid numerous court cases in various states, but the ADA couldn't be happier about the committee's public-relations morass.
Medicare, Part II.In recent weeks Republicans have been calling the Clinton administration's proposal to transfer much of the spending for Medicare home health services from the Part A trust fund to Part B a gimmick, or worse.
Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), who has been tapped to run both the GOP Senate health task force and the Senate Finance health subcommittee, joked last week that he had his own plan to save the Medicare trust fund.
"I could do the president better," Gramm said. "I can keep the trust fund solvent for 100 years by simply transferring hospital spending out of the trust fund."
Strangely, that is a part of a plan supported by some hospital groups. Most plans to "save" the Medicare Part A trust fund target hospitals for a higher percentage of Medicare cuts than other segments of the healthcare market. So some groups, including the Federation of American Health Systems, would like to see Medicare Part A and Part B merged to eliminate the trust fund altogether. That would take the pressure off hospital reimbursements, the groups argue. House Ways and Means health subcomittee Chairman William Thomas (R-Calif.) agrees the distinction between Part A and Part B has outlived its usefulness.
Does the Rock feel no pain?Should we pity poor Prudential HealthCare? The managed-care division of Prudential Insurance Co. is rumored to be on the block after losing money in 1996 and experiencing sluggish enrollment growth. Prudential vehemently denies that rumor.
Prudential is operating under a cloud of scandal as other parts of the company continue to generate negative headlines. Just last month, a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal reiterated Prudential's woes. Those include allegations against life-insurance agents engaged in deceptive sales practices and an older scheme involving fraudulent sales of limited partnerships by Prudential securities brokers.
In a case of bad timing, a full-page ad in the same issue of the Journal asked "Which Piece of the Rock Will You Need Today?" and reminded readers that Prudential pioneered major medical insurance and was the first insurance company to establish a federally qualified HMO.
Prudential's healthcare business isn't dominant in any market, and Prudential either has to sell it or "invest huge amounts" in systems and marketing, said Todd Richter, an analyst with Dean Witter Reynolds.
Just between us friends.A newspaper editor whose paper scored a rare interview last month with headline-shy Richard Scott will soon be working for him.
Emme Nelson Baxter, business editor of the Nashville Tennessean, starts a new job as communications manager with Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., where Scott is chairman and chief executive officer. The Tennessean tossed softball questions at Scott, who must have enjoyed the convivial session after dodging tough ones from us in the past few months and Mike Wallace last year.
A look back.As the drug industry grows ever more complex, it's refreshing to take a look back to a simpler time, before beta-blockers, protease inhibitors and gene therapy. That's what's taking place at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, where "Medicines: The Inside Story" is on exhibit.
The traveling multimedia exhibition chronicles the history of medicines, the myths and the realities. Using traditional displays and interactive formats, visitors can learn how medicines interact with the body's chemistry and how drugs get from laboratories to Food and Drug Administration approval and into medicine cabinets.
The exhibit features a 1920s pharmacy stocked with period medicines, and an interactive touch screen allowing you to create your own medicine and test it on virtual human beings. (Outliers learned it's not cut out for such work; our virtual patients wound up virtually dead.)
Sponsored by Glaxo Wellcome and administered by the Atlanta-based Task Force for Child Survival and Development, the exhibit is in Chicago until June 1, before heading to the California Museum of Science and Industry and two additional sites to be named later.