UNION FOR RESIDENTS. The National Labor Relations Board ruled that residents at an Illinois hospital can form a union and a collective bargaining unit.
In a decision reaffirming its ruling last year, the board said 170 residents and fellows at AdvocateHealth Care's Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., can hold a secret ballot election. Last year the board reversed a 1970s ruling and said residents, fellows and interns at Boston Medical Center are employees, not students, and are therefore allowed to form collective bargaining unions.
The Lutheran General case was the first test of the Boston ruling.
Officials with Physicians for Responsible Negotiation, the collective bargaining unit formed by the AMA in 1999, argued the case on behalf of the residents.
Hospital officials testified that residents and fellows didn't have collective bargaining rights; the board rejected those arguments.
PROFITS IN MASSACHUSETTS. The largest HMOs in Massachusetts all reported profits for the third quarter, the first time that has happened in four years.
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Tufts Health Plan and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts each reported positive results for the quarter ending Sept. 30.
Harvard Pilgrim, which was on the brink of bankruptcy and dissolution 10 months ago, posted a surplus for the first time in four years. The plan reported an operating surplus of $4.3 million on $560 million in revenue. Harvard Pilgrim was placed in receivership earlier this year after the discovery of an accounting error that increased losses to $270 million. It was released from state oversight four months ago and expects to lose $10 million this year.
Tufts remained profitable last quarter after financially suffering through 1999.
Fallon Community Health Plan reported a loss on operations in the third quarter, but officials say September was a profitable month, the first in three years.
PUSH FOR QUALITY. A coalition of 75 large employers, government agencies and nongovernmental organizations is calling on its members to pressure hospitals and physicians to adopt four medical quality initiatives it says will save more than 58,000 lives and eliminate 522,000 serious medication errors.
The Leapfrog Group sponsored a study released Nov. 15 that called for adoption of computer-assisted physician medication ordering, evidence-based hospital referrals for high-risk surgery and neonatal intensive care patients, and the use of board-certified intensivists to staff hospital intensive care units.
The group also recommended using volume and mortality rates to determine where patients should be sent for five high-risk surgical procedures. It also recommended referring high-risk mothers to larger, regional neonatal intensive care units.
The authors said they could not estimate how many people died from improper medication, but suggested, based on the volume of prescriptions ordered, "if only 9.1% of such errors were fatal, over 500 deaths would be avoided every year."
MERCK-MEDCO PUSHES GENERICS. Merck-Medco hopes to control the costs of providing prescription drug coverage by promoting the use of generic pharmaceuticals through education and the first nationwide generics sampling initiative. "We believe it is our responsibility to provide health plan sponsors with innovative programs that can reduce the rising costs of and improve access to high-quality pharmaceutical care," says President Dick Clark.
The Franklin Lakes, N.J.-based firm will target 6,000 physicians at large group practices in 12 metropolitan areas during the first year of its program via mail and 1,700 physicians via monthly meetings with Merck-Medco pharmacists. The company will offer the doctors free samples of generic medications, as well as educational tools to help increase awareness of the availability, lower cost and safety of the drugs.
Merck-Medco reported that 50% of Americans say their physicians and pharmacists have not spoken to them about generic drugs but that 93% would take generics if they were recommended by a doctor.
WEB WARS. WebMD Corp. reported in November a 620% increase in operating loss. The Atlanta-based company now faces increased competition in a key part of its business.
On Nov. 14, San Diego-based WebUnite announced it was developing a system to integrate claims processing between physicians, hospitals and seven insurers-Aetna, Anthem, CIGNA, Health Net, Oxford, PacificCare and WellPoint Health Networks-who are founding investors of WebUnite. Started in June, WebUnite aims to take part of WebMD's market share.
"I don't think this is a positive for WebMD," says analyst Kevin Berg of FAC/Equities of New York on the addition of WebUnite to the market. "It's a direct competitor to them in some respects."