The Chicago-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association did some advance work last week in hopes of skirting negative publicity from the Feb. 15 release of John Q, the latest movie to bash managed care. The movie stars Denzel Washington as a father who takes a hospital emergency room hostage after learning that his employer-sponsored health insurance won't pay for his son to have a heart transplant.
The Blues sent out a news release Feb. 11 saying it's not such a good idea to go ballistic when frustrated with your health plan. It also said film star Washington was quoted on the Hollywood.com Web site as saying, "It is highly unlikely that his character in the film would have to resort to such means because of the many other options available to transplant candidates."
In fact, Washington's quote went like this: "What he's saying basically is that my son's life is more important than anyone else's in that emergency room. The bottom line is he could have gone to a county hospital."
Hollywood last jabbed at managed care with As Good As It Gets, released in 1997, when Helen Hunt's character made disparaging remarks about her HMO.
New Line Cinema, which released John Q, declined to comment on the healthcare financing debate the movie may fuel. "It is a dramatic thriller," said a spokesman flatly. New Line said it has fielded no complaints from health insurance groups.
Maybe that's because it hasn't heard from the Blues yet. "This kind of fiction reinforces ridiculous stereotypes about healthcare, glorifies violence as a means of problem-solving and needlessly frightens the public," said Allan Korn, M.D., the Blues' chief medical officer.
Those darned lawyers
In a speech last week at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, President Bush hinted at where his true sympathies lie in the managed-care wars.
As he called on Congress to complete its work on a patients' bill of rights, he quickly changed subjects and began bashing trial lawyers.
But his first shot went to managed care: "Managed-care plans have done a lot to make healthcare more affordable for many people. They can also unfairly deny coverage and step between doctor and patient."
The rhetoric quickly turned: "Needless litigation does incredible harm to our healthcare system. It costs everyone time and money-especially patients who need care quickly-and can destroy the bond of trust between physician and patient. Frivolous lawsuits drive up insurance premiums for everybody and discourage employers from offering employee coverage at all."
Outliers' tally shows that Bush spoke 131 words critical of health plans but 247 charging lawyers with ruining the healthcare system.
Not a good outcome
Imagine calling your relatives to tell them that your mother has died. Now, imagine calling them back to tell them she's alive. And then that she's dead again.
That's what happened to Kim Foster Littlejohn after New York paramedics mistakenly declared her 77-year-old mother, Frances Foster, dead. The 77-year-old Brooklyn woman had been found unconscious on her bathroom floor. Donald Faeth, a spokesman for the paramedics' union, said Foster was "cold to the touch" and one leg was bent and wouldn't straighten. This led paramedics to assume rigor mortis had set in.
The mistake went undiscovered until the woman woke up while being put into a body bag.
"I called everyone and had to tell them my mother was dead, then only to call back and say she's alive," Littlejohn told the Associated Press. "(A medical examiner) told me ... she suddenly moved and opened her eyes and he jumped back, startled."
The woman was hospitalized in critical condition. She had suffered a stroke. She died soon afterward.
The hours between her being found and discovered alive may have been critical, Littlejohn said. "She could have been at the hospital getting taken care of. What a costly mistake."
How quickly they fall
If you want an indication of how edgy investors are, consider the fate of Dynacq International, which operates surgical hospital and outpatient facilities around Houston.
After being exalted last year as No. 2 among "America's 200 Best Small Companies" by Forbes magazine and No. 3 among "America's Fastest Growing Small Public Companies" by Fortune Small Business, Dynacq saw its stock soar to a record high of $29.25 on Jan. 7. A week later, it announced record earnings for its first quarter ended Nov. 30.
Then a conference call between company executives and analysts on Jan. 15 backfired drastically. Dynacq executives fumbled questions about accounting practices and strategic direction, prompting negative gossip on the Internet and a critical column in the online publication TheStreet.Com.
Dynacq executives had just begun holding conference calls with analysts, says COO Sarah Garvin.
Dynacq went into overdrive to counter what company Chairman and CEO Chiu Chan called "spurious media insinuations," including launching a stock buyback program. Still, its shares lost 80% of their value, plummeting as low as $5.70. The drop in value prompted at least five investor lawsuits. By last week, Dynacq's share price had recovered to hover around $10.
Dynacq defenders suggest that the company was the victim of an accounting witch hunt triggered by the Enron scandal, and Dynacq officials say they're carrying on business as usual.
Meanwhile, when asked whether the company plans to continue holding conference calls with analysts, Garvin says, "That's up in the air."