A small coalition of not-for-profit hospitals in the Washington area is capitalizing on the latest legal troubles to dog for-profit giant Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.
The Coalition to Protect Community Not-for-Profit Hospitals burned up the fax lines last week after the U.S. Justice Department announced it had joined a whistleblower lawsuit alleging widespread Medicare fraud by Columbia and another Nashville-based company, Quorum Health Group.
The nine-hospital coalition was formed last year by not-for-profit Inova Health System, Falls Church, Va. At the time, Inova acknowledged it started the coalition because of Columbia's opposition to an Inova merger in Alexandria, Va.
The whistleblower lawsuit is a public relations dream come true for the coalition.
"It simply enforces what we've been saying all along: Columbia is not an organization that you want in your local community," says Patrick Riccards, the coalition's spokesman.
But no quid pro quo, of course. Healthcare executives wanting to attend a recent meeting with Reps. William Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of a key House healthcare subcommittee, and J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who heads the House GOP's healthcare task force, first had to ante up $25,000 to the House GOP's campaign committee, according to the Wall Street Journal.
That amounts to $400 a minute per attendee-the sort of hourly fee that many in the GOP would denounce as predatory if it were charged by malpractice lawyers.
Although such a fee would seem to be fodder for Democrats to attack Republicans for being in the pocket of the healthcare industry, it was a fellow Republican, Rep. Greg Ganske of Iowa, who spoke first. "This is a blight on our political system," he told a hearing of a House Commerce Committee health panel.
Stars in their eyes. When the ABC affiliate in Washington began airing ads last week encouraging families to enroll their children in low-cost health insurance programs in the District of Columbia and Maryland, many of the faces were familiar to the staff of the American Hospital Association.
That's because some 20 AHA employees or members of their families were extras in the advertisements, along with employees and families from the AHA's partners in the effort, the March of Dimes, HCFA and the district's Medicaid program.
Washington and the state of Maryland have launched healthcare expansions for low-income children under the $24 billion Children's Health Insurance Program authorized by the 1997 federal balanced-budget law. The advertisements, running in October and November on such programs as "Oprah," "Wheel of Fortune" and "Nightline," aim to get the word out about the new programs.
Ruffled feathers. Like plenty of hospital systems, Allegheny Health, Education and Research Foundation signed on as a corporate sponsor of the local pro football team, the Philadelphia Eagles. But with the Pittsburgh-based system's operations in Philadelphia hitting the skids, the 10-year Eagles sponsorship, inked in 1997, is fast becoming another casualty of AHERF's colossal Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
"We informed the Eagles of our intent to reject that contract," says Thomas Chakurda, AHERF spokesman.
Meanwhile, the Eagles have joined the ranks of creditors seeking payment from AHERF. "We have honored and continue to honor the terms of the agreement," says an Eagles spokesman.
The details of the AHERF arrangement were disclosed late last month in an addendum to Tenet Healthcare Corp.'s purchase agreement for AHERF's Philadelphia operations. Such deals are usually closely guarded, so the pact makes for interesting reading.
For starters, AHERF agreed to pay $1.4 million to the Eagles in 1997, with hikes of 8% each year through 2006, when the sponsorship tab would hit $2.7 million. That's small change for a system that conceded this spring it lost almost $1 million a day during fiscal 1997.
In return AHERF's Philadelphia hospitals would receive a head-spinning bounty of broadcast spots on Eagles pre-game shows, post-game wrap-ups and on an in-stadium jumbo-screen TV. A panoply of print ads would include prime placement in the team's yearbook, media guide and fan magazines. To further sweeten the pot, for one home game a season AHERF also would receive 50 VIP party and game tickets and four invitations to the owner's game-day brunch.
Oh yes, actual healthcare was thrown into the marketing mix. The Eagles agreed to use an AHERF doctor as head team physician.
Quotable. "I have agreed to undergo elective surgery on New Years's Eve 1999 to show my confidence in the healthcare system."-Kevin Thurm, HHS deputy secretary, at a press conference on hospitals' year-2000 computer problems.
Talk about outpatients. With the success of network hospital dramas such as "ER" and "Chicago Hope," and science fiction shows as "Star Trek: Voyager," a space-based hospital show should come as no surprise.
OK, but a 23rd century space-station hospital, where not only people but aliens get treatment? That's the premise of "Mercy Point," which debuted last week on the UPN network. We wonder where they get second opinions.
"Mercy Point" is only the most far-fetched of a slew of new medically related shows set for this fall.
On CBS, "Matthew" explores the adventures of a mysterious hospital patient who escapes to explore the world. No word on whether he was a Medicare risk enrollee.
CBS' "L.A. Doctors" is described as a drama about three guys, a girl and a medical practice. Wait till they find out about capitation.
Also on CBS, Ted Danson plays an outspoken doctor on "Becker," which may not appear until midseason, according to our sister publication Electronic Media. Maybe he'll file one of those whistleblower suits.
Meanwhile, on the WB network, "Rescue Twenty-One" is about "aggressive paramedics," Electronic Media says. What will they do when they find out about "patient dumping"?