When federal agents raided Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. hospitals in El Paso, Texas, March 19, more than 2,000 Columbia executives were gathered in Washington for a "national leadership conference" to lobby members of Congress. Their presence gave longtime Columbia foes a chance to tee off again on the nation's largest hospital chain.
As the House Ways and Means health subcommittee met to hear testimony on hospital payment issues, a gleeful Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.), the panel's senior Democrat, released a photocopy of an invitation to members of Congress to attend a Columbia reception at the National Air and Space Museum. On the back side of that document was a photocopy of an Associated Press report on the El Paso raids.
"I would urge those with any sense of propriety and concern for how this reception is being funded to avoid the event," Stark told his colleagues on the subcommittee.
Thomas Scully, president of the Federation of American Health Systems, which represents investor-owned hospitals, was nonchalant about Stark's attack: "If he found out somebody at one of our facilities was jaywalking, he'd hold a press conference," Scully said.
Sleeping giant awakens.It seems change is afoot at Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest managed-care organization, which has made like Rip Van Winkle amid sweeping change in the healthcare industry.
Last October, the 12 medical groups serving Kaiser Permanente Health Plans announced the formation of a subsidiary called PermCorp to explore for-profit business ventures. It was a big move for Kaiser, which pioneered not-for-profit HMOs.
Now, in another move called "revolutionary" by a Kaiser spokeswoman, the physician groups, which serve Kaiser exclusively but are independent of the health plans, are organizing into a national federation. A physician source told Outliers that Kaiser docs want to regain some leverage with the health plans, which didn't involve the doctors in deciding recent deals.
After years of sitting on the sidelines while other HMOs merged, Kaiser recently bought a plan in New York state and one serving the District of Columbia area. Kaiser also plans to affiliate with Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound in Seattle.
The doctors aren't about to be upstaged. In a recent ad in the Wall Street Journal, PermCorp announced it's looking for a project manager for its New Venture Development Group unit. The ad seeks someone to "work directly with physicians and managers*.*.*.*to identify, evaluate and implement new business ventures." The ad said "experience in launching new business or products (and) venture capital" would be a plus.
Focus on health.Oxford Health Plans stopped short of legally changing its name, but, as expected, the company is buffing up its image by dropping the health plan part of its moniker in ads (March 17, p. 40).
As part of the kickoff last week for its program to give enrollees direct access to specialists, the Norwalk, Conn.-based company unveiled a branding campaign complete with a new, trademarked tag line: "Oxford, the Health & Healing Company."
"People want a focus on the living process, not just sickness and dying," explained Stephen F. Wiggins, Oxford's chairman and chief executive officer. "They (also) want a brand-name experience and (to) know what they're going to get."
Quotable."We need another hospital in this community about as much as we need a freestanding, tax-supported, multimillion-dollar Macarena dance hall."-Reginald M. Ballantyne III, president of PMH Health Resources in Phoenix and chairman of the American Hospital Association.
The Pipeline Game.It may be a case of wishful thinking, but an on-line interactive game from G.D. Searle & Co., Skokie, Ill., can trim the time it takes to bring a new drug to market from the real-life average of 12 years to a matter of minutes.
The Pipeline Game lets you try your hand at developing new drugs to treat diseases ranging from arthritis to cancer. It's at http: www.searlehealthnet.com/pipeline.html.
Players first choose a disease to target, such as heart disease. An easy-to-follow narrative explains the costs, pitfalls and likelihood of success at each of 10 steps along the way. Drug discovery, manufacturing, clinical testing and, ultimately, the third degree from the Food and Drug Administration are all potential pitfalls. A failure can send the player back to the drawing board.
A company spokeswoman acknowledged "the game is not designed for the average Joe." Instead, Searle aims to educate "opinion leaders," pharmacy and medical students, and even journalists about the difficulties and expenses of drug development.
Early versions of the game were "too frustrating because the odds were realistic," said a Searle spokeswoman. After the game was changed to stack the deck, she said, 60% of players can expect their virtual drugs to succeed without too many difficulties.
Even so, Outliers can attest the game ain't easy. In a clumsy search for a cancer cure, we found only patent problems, factory explosions and toxic side effects in our hapless, but thankfully virtual, patients.