Hospital credit ratings seem to be weakening by the day, but don't blame Y2K.
The transition of information systems to the new year hasn't caused any credit erosion for not-for-profit hospitals, according to Moody's Investors Service. The changeover occurred without major problems, says Moody's, which had 11 analysts and support staff on duty the first week of the year to call its nearly 500 hospital credits.
Given hospitals' intense preparations, widespread problems were not expected, but the complete lack of significant service interruptions was a surprise, says Moody's analyst Mimi Park. As of last week, hospitals had reported no business disruptions from outside vendors or payers.
Only a few minor glitches arose, Park says. For example, one hospital had to reboot its system to change to the new year, and another found that lab requests made on Dec. 31 had failed to register.
Meanwhile, if you need a reminder of what could have happened, look no further than Loma Linda (Calif.) Medical Center. An experiment undertaken there earlier this month may have answered any lingering questions about whether Y2K preparation was necessary.
Out of curiosity, information system officials with the 653-bed hospital did nothing to upgrade an old billing system that was being phased out. After the Y2K turnover, billing transactions were fed into the old system.
"Everything it produced was wrong. It had gotten completely confused," says Bob Blades, Loma Linda's chief information officer. "We're just grateful we upgraded everything else."
Tune in, turn off, drop out. Voters haven't really been paying attention to where the presidential candidates stand on healthcare issues, according to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health.
Asked which of the presidential candidates would do the best job on healthcare, more voters-28%-picked Texas Gov. George W. Bush than any other candidate.
What's surprising is that Bush, the leading Republican, is the only front-runner in the campaign who hasn't said how he would extend coverage to the uninsured, improve Medicare or help seniors buy prescription drugs.
Directly behind Bush, in order, were Vice President Al Gore, former Sen. Bill Bradley and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), all of whom have released healthcare plans.
News of another perplexing poll came from the American Association of Health Plans, which trumpeted surveys of likely voters in the presidential tests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The AAHP's Jan. 19 written release proclaims that managed-care reform is "not a silver bullet with voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire-who follow the issues closer than most voters-have simply not responded to attacks by politicians on HMOs."
Maybe the issue doesn't register because it's not a problem in the two largely rural states.
According to the National Institute for Health Care Management's 1999 Datasource, HMO penetration in Iowa was 4.2% in 1997. In New Hampshire, HMO penetration was at least respectable at 25.2% that year.
Dodging a fight. HCFA Administrator Nancy-Ann Min DeParle earlier this month skipped a scheduled appearance at a Medicare reform forum sponsored by Atlantic Monthly magazine and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association.
The reason? While DeParle could have claimed a scheduling conflict in the guise of a quality forum happening simultaneously, HCFA officials were out front in objecting to a lineup that featured opponents of HCFA and the Medicare fee-for-service system.
The panel at the reform forum featured Robert Moffit of the conservative Heritage Foundation, which has advocated privatization of Medicare; Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), who as chairman of a national Medicare restructuring commission authored a plan to encourage greater participation in private plans; and budget hawk Dan Crippen, director of the Congressional Budget Office.
A HCFA spokesman said the organizers of the Medicare forum initially told DeParle that HHS Secretary Donna Shalala would be attending. When DeParle received an updated agenda, however, only the three others were scheduled to appear. So she opted for the quality forum.