Even after 19 years covering the healthcare industry as a reporter and editor, the amount of news and information generated by this field has never ceased to amaze me. We start the week at Modern Healthcare with a 10 a.m. planning meeting on Monday and a list of the pages we need to fill with editorial content by the time we close at 6: 30 p.m. on Friday. Some of the newer members of our editorial management team are anxious, wondering how we're going to generate breaking news stories to post twice a day on modernhealthcare.com and how to fill each day's Daily Dose electronic newsletter. Veteran editors sip their coffee and know we'll have more news than we know what to do with.
The volume of news and information that came out of the healthcare industry in 2002 was no exception. For a comprehensive look at the key healthcare business and policy events of the year, read our special report on p. 22. Here are my choices for the top 10 stories of the year:
1) Allegations of financial shenanigans at Tenet Healthcare Corp. and HealthSouth Corp. Both were accused this year of playing fast and loose with Medicare payment rules to improperly increase revenue. Being caught in the headlights of federal fraud investigators was a black eye for the corporations' top executives and the hospital industry, whose job of wresting increased Medicare funding from the government was made that much tougher by the actions of the two companies.
2) Bankruptcy of National Century Financial Enterprises. The downfall of NCFE and many of the healthcare companies it bankrolled through buying and reselling the companies' accounts receivable lifted the curtain on one of the seamy segments of the industry. The situation revealed just how many healthcare companies operate on the financial razor's edge with care for thousands of patients at stake. And it showed just how many of these same companies seemingly operate for the sole financial benefit of their top executives.
3) Group purchasing organization hearings. How healthcare providers acquire goods and services was a black box to the general public. That was until the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee held hearings on the business practices of the country's two largest healthcare GPOs, Novation and Premier. The hearings resulted in new codes of conduct for the companies and broke their stranglehold on purchasing in the industry.
4) Release of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association cost report. When the national association representing the nation's Blues plans issued a report blaming healthcare providers for escalating healthcare costs, it signaled an abrupt end to the courteous jousting between the health insurance industry and groups representing hospitals and doctors. Tired of being the punching bag for providers, the Blues group ripped into hospitals and doctors like never before.
5) Voluntary release of hospital-performance data. With a regulatory gun to their heads, leaders of the nation's hospital lobbies announced plans to voluntarily release clinical performance data to the public. For years, hospitals fought the quality improvement efforts of the Joint Commission, the Leapfrog Group and the National Quality Forum. But along came new CMS Administrator Thomas Scully, some fearless state health officials and private payers, all vowing to pay only for quality care. And a miracle happened.
6-10) Passage of the Nurse Reinvestment Act; the release of the final Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 privacy regulations; the boom in specialty hospital construction; doctors being appointed as interim chief executive officers at troubled hospital systems; and the U.S. Justice Department dropping its criminal fraud investigation of HCA executives and the company agreeing to settle the remaining civil fraud allegations against it.
Put another pot of coffee on because 2003 is right around the corner.