What do the Whitewater investigation and the federal probe of Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. have in common?
Answer: no smoking gun and no great public concern.
That's the view of Robert J. Blendon, a healthcare polling expert at the Harvard School of Public Health. Blendon, who spoke this month at Harvard's Conference on Strategic Alliances in healthcare in Boston, was asked for his assessment of the public perception of Columbia's recent troubles. He compared the situation to the long-running Whitewater probe. Blendon said polls show that most Americans regard the Clintons' conduct as part of the sleazy business-as-usual style of politics. If there were clear evidence of a crime, the tide of public opinion might turn against the White House.
Likewise, there is no conclusive evidence that Columbia did anything wrong, Blendon said. But if internal memos and testimony of Medicare fraud schemes come to light, the situation could change drastically, he asserted.
"For a really big political backlash, you need this kind of smoking-gun evidence," Blendon remarked.
He added something that won't help Columbia executives sleep at night. He noted that big corporations make tempting scapegoats for healthcare fraud, far better than not-for-profit community hospitals. "As a target-if you're a political adviser-go after (wealthy companies). Leave the Sisters of Mercy alone this year. . . . Go after the people who look like they are making big dollars on the front page, earning big incomes, because the public believes that scandal is always where the money is."
Off limits.This week's Federation of American Health Systems annual meeting in Las Vegas offers a couple of sessions that sound interesting to Outliers, but we won't be able to give a first-hand account of what's discussed. The press isn't welcome.
One session, "Public Affairs: Crisis Management," will feature corporate relations representatives from Tenet Healthcare Corp., Quorum Health Group and Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. Another, "Bridging the For-Profit, Non-Profit Gap," will feature executives from for-profit healthcare companies and not-for-profit hospitals. Apparently, federation members, most of whom come from for-profit hospital companies, haven't been paying close enough attention to the stories about state attorneys general probing their efforts to acquire not-for-profit hospitals. Some attorneys general have been criticizing the deals on "secrecy" and "disclosure" issues.
Who are those guys? The Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals and the National Association of Community Health Centers all qualified for a list of "key players" on healthcare legislation published last week in the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill.
Left off the list? The American Hospital Association, which likes to think of itself as the representative organization for the hospital sector.
Upon hearing of his group's exclusion, AHA lobbyist Mike Rock said he was laughing too hard to comment. But then Rock expressed relief that the newspaper had published the so-called "Rolodex update" list because he hadn't heard of most of the other listed groups and might want to add their names to his files.
Quotable."Physicians, in my view, certainly don't have a lock on the integrity market. . . . We ought to be doing the right thing, no matter what the reimbursement system is."
-William C. Popik, M.D., senior vice president and national medical affairs director of Cigna Corp., speaking at the Harvard Conference on Strategic Alliances in healthcare. Popik lamented that too many physicians determine the way they treat patients by how they are getting paid-fee-for-service or capitation.
Amelia revisited.Linda Finch, who took off in a Lockheed Electra 10E from an Oakland, Calif., airfield last month to retrace Amelia Earhart's final attempt at an around-the-world flight, happens to be a nursing home operator when she's on the ground.
Finch owns four nursing homes and a retirement community in Texas. Her for-profit facilities are Cartwheel Lodge of Luling, Cartwheel Lodge of Gonzales, Pecan Grove (Texas) Care Center, Dublin (Texas) Nursing Center and Camelot Retirement Community in McAllen.
The 46-year-old Finch has been in the nursing home business for the past 20 years. And she's been flying planes on the side for just as long for fun and to travel to her facilities.
Finch spent two years restoring the Lockheed plane, which is nearly identical to Earhart's. Her office manager, Julie Cordero, says Finch has always been fascinated with Earhart, who disappeared on a flight 60 years ago near Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean. Cordero says Finch decided to make the trip as a way to show how anyone can accomplish his or her dreams.
At press time, Finch was on her way to Africa after a scheduled maintenance stop in Forteleza, Brazil. She has some 21,000 miles to go and 20 countries to travel through before touching down back in Oakland at the end of May.