A series of radio ads began airing on Springfield, Ill., stations last week alleging that the influx of campaign contributions to Gov. Rod Blagojevich from the Illinois Hospital Association is an attempt to sway the decision in a hospital tax case. The ads were sponsored by wherethemoneygoes.com, a Web site that attacks hospital charity-care policies and alleges overspending on executive compensation.
The ads suggest that $250,000 in recent IHA donations to Democrat Blagojevich were intended to influence a pending administrative law judge's decision that could revoke the tax-exempt status of 120-bed Provena Covenant Medical Center in Urbana, Ill. In 2004, a Champaign County panel recommended that the state Revenue Department revoke the hospital's property tax exemption, which it did. That decision cost Provena $1.1 million annually and the system appealed, and a ruling has been expected for months.
According to Joe Novak, president of the not-for-profit Web site wherethemoneygoes.com, the ads were slated to run 15 times daily on two stations in the final days of the state Legislature's session for a cost of about $5,000. Novak, a political consultant who has worked for millionaire GOP insurance magnate and medical savings accounts creator J. Patrick Rooney and his Fairness Foundation, says the ads were financed by "an in kind donation from one of my faithful readers who asked me not to disclose his name." However, Novak denied that Rooney or a Rooney organization was the benefactor.
The Illinois Hospital Association rejected Novak's claim that the campaign contributions were aimed at influencing the Provena decision. Howard Peters, IHA's senior vice president of government relations, says the ads "were intended to prejudice the department against Provena and its claim for tax-exempt status." Peters says Provena has adopted new billing policies with generous discounts for the uninsured and calls the suggestion that the IHA was trying to buy influence "ludicrous and not well-disguised at all." He says the IHA has a long history of financially supporting candidates who care about healthcare.
Less than meets the eye
Alegent Health is joining the early leaders among hospitals in posting its prices for certain procedures, unveiling what it calls "a regional model for pricing transparency" at the third annual World Health Care Congress in Washington last month. But a companion niche program providing discounts for the uninsured won't offer the same kind of markdowns that insurers can leverage from providers.
According to a news release, plans call for the nine-hospital system based in Omaha, Neb., to roll out pricing information systems accessible to prospective patients either by phone or online by January 2007.
Alegent already has a discount program in which it writes off up to 100% of charges of uninsured patients based on family income.
Alegent announced plans to begin a discount program on July 1 for those with higher incomes but no insurance coverage. For them, Alegent will offer at least a 20% prompt-pay reduction for major procedures such as hip replacements or heart surgery.
"The discount applies to the gross sticker price," says Scott Wooten, chief financial officer. And while that's better than paying full freight, it remains to be seen whether it's much of a bargain.
According to the most-recent data provided by HealthGrades, a purveyor of hospital quality ratings, the average charge among Midwest providers for hip replacement surgery was $42,770, while the average bill allowed by private insurers was $20,708, a 52% discount. Similarly, the average charge for heart bypass surgery was $96,920 while the average bill allowed was $48,154, a 50% discount.
She's the boss
While most recent college grads spend their time sending out resumes, Stanford alumna Elizabeth Holmes is busy reading them. Having secured more than $10 million in venture capital funding earlier this year, Holmes is busy trying to build her Menlo Park, Calif.-based medical home-monitoring business, Theranos.
"We're hiring aggressively," she says, adding that she is particularly interested in candidates in the chemistry and fluidics fields and others with "deep technology expertise." Her own background is in microfluidics and nanotechnology.
Although the company's name may sound like a figure from ancient mythology, Holmes says the name is a combination of therapy and diagnose.
The business is now focusing on marketing a device called Theranos 1.0, which can analyze a person's blood to check whether an adverse drug reaction is taking place, but Holmes says her company is looking into an array of home-monitoring products. "We expect to lead the field," she says, adding that "This is what I'm going to be doing for a long time."
Helping New Orleans
Children's Hospital in New Orleans was selected to receive $5.3 million from the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, the largest gift the hospital has ever received. The money is part of a $100 million pledge the oil-rich nation made to victims of Hurricane Katrina last September. Cathleen Randon, a Children's Hospital spokeswoman, says $5 million will establish a Qatar Cares fund to underwrite the medical care of needy children whose families were affected by the hurricane.
"It's such a generous gift. It will really help us out. It makes our heart feel good that people around the world are willing to help us. We've been through a lot," Randon says.
"My initial aims were simple: to fix my femur and end the stabbing pain I felt whenever I tried to move my leg. Two days into my 10-day hospital stay-five in acute care, five in rehab-I revised my goals. I emerged from surgery wanting something more basic: to survive the microbes and risks of deep vein thrombosis, the ineptitude of some staff and the malice of others."
-- R.N. Rosalind Feldman writing in the Washington Post about her experience in a hospital after breaking her leg.