Here they come. With the presidential campaign heating up earlier than ever, you knew the healthcare reform proposals couldn't be far behind.
Upstart Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley gave us the most detailed one so far last week when he offered a $55-billion-a-year reform proposal. Calling healthcare "an American birthright," he unveiled a plan that would expand coverage by offering uninsured families the option of joining a federally approved system of health plans either in existence or developed under the federal employees' health insurance plan. It also would offer premium subsidies for low-income families.
Bradley proposed expanding Medicare benefits to cover prescription drugs, something now being debated by the White House and congressional leaders.
The Bradley campaign estimated the program would lead to nearly universal coverage and cost between $55 billion and $65 billion.
The campaign of Vice President Al Gore criticized Bradley's proposal, saying it would cost too much and increase the regulatory burden on businesses. Hmmm. Isn't that what critics said about President Clinton's healthcare reform plan?
Pardon me, governor. If George W. Bush is allowed to have his "youthful indiscretions," why can't they?
That's what several past drug offenders were wondering during a Sept. 27 demonstration on the south lawn of the Texas Capitol, asking Gov. Bush to "pardon" them for their misdeeds. The publicity stunt was part of a campaign by a group called Common Sense for Drug Policy to shift the focus of the country's war on drugs from punishment to treatment.
The Falls Church, Va.-based advocacy group has pulled together a $500,000 budget from contributions from Pennsylvania construction mogul Robert Field, philanthropist George Soros and other private contributors, including healthcare organizations.
"A public health approach makes more sense than a law enforcement approach," says Kevin Zeese, president of Common Sense, who adds that while he doesn't necessarily oppose easing drug laws, "legalization is not what this is about." An ad campaign calling for funding for treatment and other alternatives to jail time has the support of several health groups, including the American Public Health Association, the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs and the American Psychological Association. Zeese says his organization hasn't approached the American Hospital Association for support for his cause, although he contends that "a sensible drug war is sensible for hospitals."
AHA spokesman Richard Wade says that "as hospitals are squeezed by the Balanced Budget Act and by insurance companies, the services that are first on the chopping block are drug and alcohol treatment programs." But he says the AHA prefers to make its case for expanded drug treatment coverage with states and insurers directly rather than work through a broad coalition with wider goals.
The Common Sense group calculates that $8.6 billion is spent yearly to keep drug violators behind bars. Hospitals would probably like a piece of that action.
Checks are in the mail. Money talks. And the Premier hospital alliance had plenty to chat about with the top brass from its member health systems at a confab held in Aspen, Colo., earlier this month. Completing a previously announced financial restructuring (Jan. 25, p. 14), San Diego-based Premier distributed $173 million to its shareholders.
Retained earnings, group purchasing dividends, and reductions in capital requirements funded the extraordinary cash payout, which exceeded initial estimates of about $140 million to $160 million. Premier said that 36 chief executives hand-carried their checks home from the management meeting. The rest were delivered by mail or wire.
Marketing on wheels. Managed-care giant Aetna U.S. Healthcare rolled into New York City last week to debut "health.e.nation," a glitzy, traveling exhibition rigged with educational videos and interactive displays on health issues. Visitors can also tap into Intelihealth, the consumer health World Wide Web site cosponsored by Johns Hopkins University and Health System.
The Blue Bell, Pa.-based insurer will use the 800-square-foot tractor-trailer-about the size of a Gotham apartment-to show how technology will revolutionize healthcare decisionmaking, and maybe woo customers at the same time.
Some 100,000 to 200,000 people are expected to view the company's exhibit as it travels the nation during the next year. For every visitor, the insurer will donate at least a dollar to charity. The proceeds will be shared by the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association and the March of Dimes.