In its budget-cutting frenzy of 1995-1996, Congress eliminated the advisory agency known as the Office of Technology Assessment. Last week, Congress acknowledged that it cut OTA functions with a meat ax rather than a scalpel.
It seems Congress forgot one of the OTA's most important healthcare functions was appointing members of the Prospective Payment Assessment Commission, which advises Congress on hospital reimbursement, and the Physician Payment Review Commission, which advises Congress on physician compensation.
With the terms of several commissioners expiring and no way to appoint new ones, the House Commerce Committee last week rushed through legislation extending the terms of those commissioners until 1998. No word yet on whether the commissioners wanted to stay on board.
Gramm-cracked.After failing to receive several Medicare budget projections he had requested from the White House, Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) told HCFA Administrator Bruce Vladeck last week he would hold up confirmations of HHS appointees until he gets the numbers he wants.
According to Gramm, who was recently appointed chairman of the Senate Finance health subcommittee, five HHS confirmations are pending. "I'm going to make your life miserable," Gramm told Vladeck.
One of the appointments Gramm could delay is Vladeck's replacement. The HCFA chief has already announced he will leave sometime after July. Nancy-Ann Min, associate director for health and personnel with the White House Office of Management and Budget, is rumored to be in line to move over to HCFA as Vladeck's deputy and ascend to administrator when Vladeck leaves.
Vladeck would not commit to furnishing Gramm with the numbers. A showdown may be imminent.
Heal thyself.Oxford Health Plans has made a name for itself by plowing ground few other HMOs have dared touch. Last fall, for instance, the Norwalk, Conn.-based managed-care company began covering alternative care such as acupuncture under some plans. Later this month Oxford is expected to unveil new twists in its business strategies. And in a continuing tilt to the new age, Oxford may recast itself as a healing company instead of a hawker of health plans.
An Oxford spokeswoman categorically denied a rumored name change is in the works. But don't be surprised if Oxford revamps its corporate image with a kinder, gentler message that's heavy on healing.
Several industry watchers said the move would make perfect sense for a company that's already pushed the limits of what it means to be an HMO.
Replay.It sounded like two Omaha, Neb., hospitals were close to settling a long-running property dispute last November when they suspended litigation for a 60-day negotiating period.
In February, after 201-bed Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital and 343-bed University of Nebraska Medical Center agreed to a second 30-day extension, Clarkson spokesman Jim Allen said, "I'm confident this will be the last extension."
Last week, Clarkson and UNMC extended talks a third time, until April 11. Allen now ruefully suggests his own last name be spelled L-I-A-R and his comment appear in a column slugged "no credibility." The hospitals are discussing a 1953 property contract that gives UNMC the right of first refusal on any sale of Clarkson. It was used to derail an $84 million sale of Clarkson to Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. in 1995. Subsequently, Clarkson petitioned the court for clear title.
In the cards.During a delightful cocktail party recently, Outliers was approached by a dedicated reader with an intriguing claim about a certain "collector's item" in his possession. It made us think we need to get out more often.
It seems the healthcare exec had been following the saga of West Palm Beach, Fla.-based U.S. Diagnostic, the nation's largest chain of outpatient diagnostic imaging centers. Under scrutiny from securities regulators and beset with shareholder lawsuits, the company last month suspended its chief executive and general counsel over the company's dealings with a consultant, who happens to be a convicted felon.
At issue was whether consultant Keith G. Greenberg served as a virtual company executive and whether U.S. Diagnostic used his consultancy as a fig leaf to avoid disclosing his criminal past in securities filings.
Our faithful reader breathlessly told us he met with Greenberg not long before the company shortened its name to U.S. Diagnostic from U.S. Diagnostic Labs last year. And in keeping with business customs, they exchanged cards. Greenberg, his card said, was an executive vice president at U.S. Diagnostic, giving credence to claims he was calling the shots on mergers and acquisitions for the company. The card contained no reference to his consulting firm, provocatively called Coyote Consulting.
Whatever Greenberg did for U.S. Diagnostic seems like nice work if you can get it. In late January, the company terminated its relationship with Greenberg and his firm, and revealed that it had paid Greenberg and Coyote Consulting more than $4 million in 1996.
Quotable."The only people with a constitutional right to healthcare are people in prison. Three strikes and you're covered."-Healthcare futurist J. Ian Morrison, speaking at a conference in California.