In the latest sign that relations between health insurers and hospitals aren't as chilly as they sometimes seem, Aetna Chairman and CEO John Rowe was able to parlay a few thousand dollars in donations to Falmouth (Mass.) Hospital to make personal use of its emergency helicopter pad.
Hospital spokesman David Reilly told the Cape Cod Times that Rowe was allowed to land his private chopper at the heliport free of charge nine times from August 2003 to July 2004, when the practice was stopped. "We just took a look at it and decided that this is really for transporting patients," Reilly says.
A hospital donor list shows Rowe has donated $5,000 to $10,000 to the hospital. He can afford it, having earned $22 million in 2004 and owning $165 million in unexercised stock options.
According to Reilly, hospital administrators first granted Rowe landing privileges as a favor to the Woods Hole National Oceanographic Institution, where he was to give a speech. After that, Rowe, who has a home in Falmouth, sought and received permission to use the pad eight times.
Healthcare in song
The musical comedy "Damaged Care" isn't to be confused with the movie of the same title, but both shows seek to shed some light on questionable industry practices.
In 2002, Outliers reported on "Damaged Care," a made-for-TV movie about an HMO denying needed care, (May 6, 2002, p. 36), but by then physicians Greg LaGana and Barry Levy had already been on the road with their own musical comedy, which depicts the depersonalization of healthcare.
Their "Damaged Care" is about more than the perils of managed care, however. LaGana and Levy have been performing numbers about physicians' unwillingness to change, the financial side of the business and the effects of hospital mergers for nearly 10 years. The goal of the show is to remind healthcare providers that treating patients is the most important aspect of business.
"Sometimes money issues become more important than care," Levy says.
The two are both board-certified in internal medicine and are practicing physicians. Levy also works as a consultant.
The duo first put on shows in the late 1960s, ribbing classmates and faculty at Cornell University Medical College in New York.
From 1994 to 1995, LaGana and Levy were classmates again when they took musical theater courses at the New School for Social Research in New York. The classes were in preparation for their 25th medical school class reunion in 1996, where they debuted "Damaged Care." Now they mostly perform at conventions, but they also have done shows at hospitals and other healthcare settings.
"We continue to update all the time," Levy says. "What is satire today is reality tomorrow."
One example is the writing of prescriptions over the Internet. The two wrote a song called "Doctors in Cyberspace" a few years ago, and now online prescribing has become a reality. One line from that song goes, "We're so giddy ... profits pretty ... and we don't have to be face to face."
Golfing with a purpose
The real question for Zach Johnson is whether raising funds for healthcare by playing better as a pro golfer will add to the pressure of his sport or relieve it.
Johnson calls his effort "Birdies that Care." It benefits the Community Health Free Clinic in his hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. For every birdie (one shot under par on a given hole) he scores, he will donate $50 to the facility. For every eagle (two shots under par), he will donate $100. Each donation will be matched by a local financial-services company, Aegon USA.
"Every kid deserves an opportunity to get great healthcare," says Johnson, who will give to the clinic this year but turn to other charities next year.
Still, it's no small effort. As a rookie in the tour last year, Johnson, 29, earned more than $2 million, recording 400 birdies in 30 events.
Speaking of online prescriptions, the problem of distributing drugs without physical exams or proper medical histories has worsened, with one national tracking study finding that more than half the sites fill in answers for patients on health questionnaires.
That's a clue that something's wrong, says Dale Austin, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Federation of State Medical Boards. The federation runs a clearinghouse to help identify problem Web sites and turn them over to proper authorities.
The Arizona Medical Board recently censured a doctor for writing prescriptions for Internet patients without conducting a physical exam. According to a news release, Deborah Golob, of Tempe, Ariz., continued Internet prescribing despite a complaint by the board in July 2004. She says she continues the practice because she believes she's in compliance with state laws.
State medical boards' policies governing such practices vary widely, and in some instances boards have disciplined doctors for violations that aren't stated in their books. But the lack of national laws doesn't reflect doctors' views. "Universally, medical boards believe this is bad practice and does not meet the standards of good care," Austin says in classic understatement. "These rogue sites revert back to the days of buyer beware, and that's very dangerous."