HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson told more than 150 healthcare executives meeting in Chicago that his hopes for the future include a Medicare system reinvigorated by competition, tax credits to finance health insurance for the uninsured and possibly subsidies for hospital technology purchases, funded by fraud-and-abuse recoveries. In response to a question, Thompson said the Bush administration has not taken a position on a legislative initiative by Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) to block physicians from referring patients to hospitals in which they have a financial interest. The proposal would slow the growth of the specialty hospital sector; 70% of specialty hospitals have physician owners. "We should study the issue, but we should not prohibit them at this time," Thompson said.
Thompson also told the executives that the methodology used to determine Medicare inflation updates is probably flawed and should be changed. He also agreed with an audience member that HHS should consider add-on payments for community hospitals and called on hospital executives and physicians to contribute used medical equipment to Afghanistan or volunteer to treat patients there. Thompson spoke at a forum sponsored by the Chicago law firm Bell, Boyd & Lloyd. -- by Mark Taylor