It's always a tough call picking the right doctor. Just ask President Bush.
Bush, hoping to gain support for his national call for malpractice insurance reform, invited two doctors to be his guests at the Capitol for last week's State of the Union address-including Denise Lynne Baker, an obstetrician/gynecologist from Bradenton, Fla.
Bush met Baker last month in Scranton, Pa., when he first rolled out his case for imposing strict limits on damages in malpractice cases as a way to help combat skyrocketing insurance premiums for physicians, including specialists such as Baker. During a roundtable discussion, she told the president that she was forced to stop delivering babies in September because her insurance had soared from $58,000 to $200,000 a year.
It turns out that Baker, a practicing physician since 1991, has settled three lawsuits totaling about $600,000 in the last three years-one reason why her insurers sought a far higher premium. One of the cases involved the death of a baby. Baker said she was not the primary doctor in that case.
Like most presidents, Bush invited a handful of guests from around the country to help highlight specific issues and personalize his long speech. To underscore concerns about soaring malpractice premiums, the White House invited Baker and another physician, Kurt Kooyer, an internist who fled Mississippi for North Dakota last year because of insurance rates. Baker sat one row behind first lady Laura Bush in a balcony seat.
It wasn't until the next day that reporters in Florida discovered the malpractice cases involving Baker.
A Florida lawyer who sued Baker four years ago suggested in an interview with one Florida newspaper that perhaps she wasn't the best person to serve as a case study in how frivolous suits are wreaking havoc in the nation's medical establishment. "Dr. Baker is as much a cause of the problem as anybody," Roger Lutz told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. "It's incredible that she put herself front and center and sat by Laura Bush."
Ethics policy, unabridged edition
With all of the hoopla in the past year over their stealthy business practices, you would think group purchasing organizations would have more pressing things to do than to read journalism trade journals. But executives for at least one prominent GPO were abuzz about an article posted on Jan. 13 at Editor & Publisher Online, editorandpublisher.com, about a revised ethics policy at the venerable New York Times.
Editor & Publisher reported that the 38-page policy recently adopted by the Times followed two years of review and primarily focused on changes in policy regarding stock ownership and involvement in public life. The revision apparently for the first time bars all staff members from having a stake in a company that they regularly cover. The following week, the New Yorker magazine also noted the revision in policy, describing it as a 52-page document called Ethical Journalism that was three years in the making.
"As common-sensical and salutary as so much of this is, one comes away from reading the document with a renewed sense of wonderment at the Times' vision of itself," the New Yorker says.
GPO executives, the very same who were sullied by questions regarding ethics policies that were raised in a series of articles in the Times, were quick to respond-anonymously, of course.
"It's a good thing the Times wasn't under any sort of Senate deadline," says one, referring to the codes of conduct adopted by Premier and Novation as the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee breathed down their necks last summer.
"We're impressed that the Times took only three years to develop a new ethics policy," says still another. "We hope it will take them less time to gain an understanding of the group purchasing industry."
Sniffed yet another GPO executive: "This policy is lighter than ours."
Setting a good example
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson wants his staff to practice what they preach, or at least to avoid eating what they shouldn't eat.
The secretary, who often champions a healthy lifestyle, recently announced a program to prevent asthma, diabetes and obesity through community initiatives to achieve healthier lifestyles for hundreds of thousands of Americans. A few days later, Thompson said he had put his entire department on a diet. Of course, Thompson, who is given to making off-the-cuff remarks, was exaggerating, but he has indeed put his staff on alert to eat better, exercise more and stop smoking.
"He's using his bully pulpit here in the department, as well as across America," says Tracy Self, an HHS spokeswoman.
The secretary is following his own advice: He already has lost several pounds, Self says.
MedAssets President, Chairman and CEO John Bardis gave a presentation at the J.P. Morgan H&Q 21st Annual Healthcare Conference in San Francisco held Jan. 6-9. The investor conference featured more than 240 public and private companies.
It begs the question of whether the privately owned group purchasing organization is looking for investors, thinking of going public or just wanted to spread the good word. Officials at the Alpharetta, Ga.-based GPO declined comment.