The World Wide Web came along just in time for C. Everett Koop, M.D. Last week's resounding success of an initial public offering of stock in the 8-month-old Web site drkoop.com nailed Koop's decadelong goal of launching a healthy effort to empower healthcare consumers.
Koop's initial attempt to convert his name recognition into popular educational sources of self-help centered on marketing videotapes, but that venture ended in a bankruptcy filing in 1996 for Patient Education Media. His current company, founded in 1997 as Personal Medical Records, first envisioned creating freestanding software for personal health and medical information but switched to an Internet strategy in early 1998.
The IPO raised $84.4 million at $9 per share, and the stock-going by KOOP on the NASDAQ exchange, the ultimate in name recognition-quickly shot up to about $20. If the stock stays in that range, the 82-year-old former surgeon general will be financially healthy himself. His 2.5 million shares are worth $50 million.
Prime stakes. A hospital chain and a healthcare information company, and their top officers, did better than Dr. Koop in Wall Street's embrace of drkoop.com.
According to the prospectus, Adventist Health System Sunbelt Healthcare Corp., the Winter Park, Fla.-based system, owned 2.75 million shares, or 7% of the Internet company after the IPO. Its president, Mardian Blair, 67, owned 2.75 million shares on his own. The tally at $20 per share: $55 million for the system and its president each.
Publicly traded Superior Consultant Holdings Corp., a Southfield, Mich.-based healthcare technology and management systems company, came out of the offering with a 14% stake, valued at about $104 million, as did Richard Helppie, 43, its chairman and chief executive officer. Blair and Helppie are directors on the drkoop.com board, and Koop is on Superior's board.
Beating 'em around the Bush. The powerful and politically savvy health insurance lobby is asking GOP presidential hopeful George W. Bush, governor of Texas, to take a stand on a thorny issue in his state and in Washington.
The Health Insurance Association of America has written a letter to Bush, the leading Republican candidate, asking him to veto a bill that would allow physicians to bargain collectively with health plans. The bill passed both houses of the Texas Legislature and needs only Bush's signature to become law. He has until June 20 to sign it.
Physicians contend that insurers have an unfair market advantage in negotiating prices for healthcare services. By unionizing, they hope to achieve strength in numbers.
Insurers, on the other hand, say physicians are just interested in wresting more money for themselves-money that would come out of the pockets of premium payers.
The HIAA asked the Dallas office of the law firm Vinson & Elkins to analyze the legislation. In a June 3 letter to Bush, the firm wrote: "Texas should not be a beacon state for this kind of anti-competitive and unconstitutional legislation."
A bill pending in the U.S. House of Representatives, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Campbell (R-Calif.), would also give physicians the right to bargain collectively.
Is shortage primarily over? Concern about a shortage of primary-care physicians seems to be waning. At least that's the case one group is making.
The Council of Graduate Medical Education published a report in March citing "significant progress" in addressing the primary-care deficit. The nation is producing 9,217 generalists a year, just 7% short of a goal of 9,870, according to the COGME.
The government-funded advisory body is considering a re-examination of its 1994 recommendation that 50% of medical students be trained in primary care. "It's been at least five years, and there have been enough changes in the medical marketplace," says Jerald Katzoff, staff liaison for the COGME. He says the review could take about two years.
Nevertheless, one group is still sounding the alarm about a lack of generalist docs. The American Medical Student Association has declared Sept. 27 to Oct. 1 "National Primary Care Week." It will use an $80,000 HHS grant to promote primary care at the nation's medical schools.
According to the AMSA, the percentage of U.S. graduating seniors entering primary-care residencies decreased last year for the first time this decade. A primary-care shortage hinders the delivery of quality care in underserved communities, the group says.
A little something extra. The joy of scientific discovery may be its own reward. But a $100,000 prize can't hurt.
Earlier this month, K. Frank Austen, M.D., 71, a researcher and director of the allergy program at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, copped the 11th annual Warren Alpert Foundation prize in that amount for his breakthrough research into the causes of asthma.
Austen's lab discovered leukotrienes, a class of elusive compounds that trigger asthma attacks, and opened a new front in the war against the chronic disease, which afflicts more than 17 million Americans. So for Austen the bigger honor may be that more than 3.5 million people around the world now take drugs to counteract leukotrienes and stop asthma attacks before they start.
What will he do with the money, Outliers asked? At first, Austen says, he considered replacing his 1987 Volvo, something "a lot of people have been after me to do." But Austen's wife prevailed on him to renovate their house outside Boston instead, so Austen says he'll settle for a proper exercise room next to his third-floor home office.
Irreverence du jour. Congressional commentator Norm Ornstein gets the "No Fear" award for telling a risque joke to a luncheon crowd at the annual Catholic Health Association meeting last week in Orlando, Fla. The joke goes something like this: President Clinton and Vice President Gore are at a restaurant. Gore orders meatloaf and Clinton orders a "quickie." The waitress, angry at Clinton, asks the president, "Haven't you learned anything after all that has happened?" She then storms off to call the independent counsel's office. Clinton turns to Gore and asks what he said that was so wrong. Gore says, "Mr. President, it's pronounced 'quiche.' "