The U.S. Senate's decision to retain a provision in its balanced-budget plan to require wealthy seniors to pay a higher Medicare premium came on a surprisingly strong 70-30 vote.
But Medicare being a "third-rail" issue (touch it and you die), there were some nay votes that could be seen as surprising, at least until you look at when the senators are up for re-election.
Some of the solons who must have squirmed while voting against the provision were Republicans, whose party line has been in favor of means testing. Among them were Paul Coverdell of Georgia, who's up for re-election in 1998; Alphonse D'Amato, New York, 1998; John McCain, Arizona, 1998; Spencer Abraham, Michigan, 2000; Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania, 1998; and Olympia Snowe, Maine, 2000.
Of the 14 Democrats who are up for re-election in 1998, nine voted nay, including Barbara Boxer, California; Thomas Daschle, South Dakota; Byron Dorgan, North Dakota; Daniel Inouye, Hawaii; Patrick Leahy, Vermont; Barbara Mikulski, Maryland; Carol Moseley-Braun, Illinois; Patty Murray, Washington; and Ron Wyden, Oregon.
Voinovich's Blues tie.Will the fallout never end from last year's failed joint venture of Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. and the former Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Ohio?
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the former Ohio Blues, now called Medical Mutual of Ohio, paid more than $5 million to companies controlled by Ohio Gov. George V. Voinovich's family between 1992 and 1997. The contracts were canceled this spring after a state insurance department regulator raised questions, according to the paper. The regulator was assigned to monitor Medical Mutual's finances.
Voinovich's administration was criticized by consumer groups for dragging its feet in reviewing the proposed transaction, which was finally rejected in March. Voinovich was silent about the controversial deal, which contained multimillion-dollar payouts for Blues executives.
Drinking it in.For the troops' unvarnished reactions to a hospital merger, head to the local tavern, belly up to the bar and listen closely. Or, if you're a teetotaler, pick up the hospitals' newsletters and read between the lines.
As the best of both worlds, Outliers recommends Transition News, the monthly merger update for employees published by Pennsylvania State University Hospital-Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Geisinger Health System. A whimsical "Overheard" column ran side-by-side sound bites allegedly collected at Geisinger's local watering hole-the Pine Bar Inn in Danville, Pa.-and Hershey Medical Center's preferred pub-the Penn Sports Bar, Hershey, Pa.
According to Transition News, employee chatter at the Pine Bar included: "We're being taken over by Penn State. Does this mean we can go to Penn State for free?" And, "We'll probably have to start paying for parking." Meanwhile, patrons of the Penn Sports Bar were said to have grumbled: "We're being taken over by Geisinger; We're losing our Penn State education benefit." And, "They don't have to pay for parking at Geisinger. I'm going to get a job up there as soon as I can."
Sweatnet.Fitness is in, and so is the Internet. So it was inevitable that someone would try to unite the two.
Calling itself "the first private health club in cyberspace," a World Wide Web site called Health Oasis is offering everything from "social club" mingling to a "virtual weight-loss clinic," offering physician-designed nutrition and workout plans carried out with encouragement from a cyber-buddy. Other benefits, according to Health Oasis Chairman John B. Evans, include discounts on health products and a "learning annex" of health-related information.
All this is for members only, of course. The club charges $40 for the first three months and $7 for the next nine months. But once on line, at www.healthoasis.com, "members can follow their own personal path to improving their physical, emotional and social well-being," says President Bruce Worrall.
As long as members aren't secretly reaching for chocolate chip cookies during their cyber-sessions.
Swiss niche.Columbia Hopital de la Tour, Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.'s hospital in Geneva, Switzerland, is filling an enviable niche.
Swiss doctors told our far-flung Outliers correspondent in Geneva that the 180-bed facility has benefited from a dearth of first- and second-class beds at the 1,600-bed public facility, the Hopital Cantonale Universitaire. The local government miscalculated when it built its public hospital in 1968 with only 10% of its beds dedicated to patients with higher-paying insurance, says Albert Burger, M.D., professor at the University of Geneva's medical school. The Swiss purchase their own first-, second- or third-class insurance.
Unlike in the U.S., Columbia's Geneva facility can pick and choose its clientele. It doesn't accept patients with third-class insurance, and it avoids chronic cases.
Instead, it focuses on high-tech, high-return procedures such as cardiovascular surgery. " (The procedures) are excellent, but reserved for those who can pay," Burger says. Columbia de la Tour's patient mix includes Swiss citizens with higher-paying insurance and people from other European countries who flock there for heart surgery.