The Medical Group Management Associations annual meeting in Las Vegas began with a burlesque magic act and ended with an Animal House-themed closing reception. Perhaps those lively bookends were designed to balance out the seriousness of the conference content in between.
Every seat in the room was filled within minutes after it began, and people were elbow-to-elbow in the back, trying to eat and drink while balancing a plate of food in one hand and a bottle or glass in the other. Some just gave up that difficult juggling act and claimed space on the floor, camping out on the carpet while the speakers, barely visible from this odd perspective, tackled a series of hot-button issues in primary care. Of course, by the time this session startedit began at 4:15 p.m., the last one of the dayit was definitely time to mix a little alcohol with some education.
However, attendees didnt seem all that fazed by that news or reports of other pressures facing group practices. We asked William Jessee, the MGMAs president and CEO, about why that was. He thought for a moment and replied, In all candor, the people I talk to dont seem to be filled with doom and gloom. I dont know if thats denial, or a reaction like, OK, I get that when Im at work. Now, Ill have a little different attitude.
As Modern Healthcare has reported, hospitals, though previously burned by the strategy, are back in the business of buying physician practices to protect and/or to build their market share. The high interest in Halleys session validated that coverage.
Most of those in attendance were practice administrators leery of the advances of competing hospitals in their communities. One administrator told us that hospitals in his market were using different tacks to bring physicians under their control. He said one hospital was aggressively buying up as many practices as possible, throwing lots of money around. Another hospital, by comparison, was being more subtle, trying to breed physician loyalty by investing in new medical technologies, devices and services that would attract doctors, he said. Given his description of the competition, he and his practice clearly leaned toward the gentle approach, and that may be a lesson for other hospitals around the country.
Now in his seventh year at the helm, Jessee, as usual, deftly outlined the MGMAs key initiatives over the last year. Everything went swimmingly, he told the crowd. He then fielded a few softball questions from reporters more preoccupied with the sandwiches and brownies than the associations outlook. Afterward, we asked Jessee, who exudes a bit of the style and panache of a diplomat, about those pesky rumors that he is the front-runner to take over the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations when longtime CEO Dennis OLeary calls it quits next year.
Jessee, as usual, did not miss a beat.
If I am appointed, youll let me know, wont you? he replied with a smile.
He didnt exactly rule himself out as a replacement for OLearybut he shrugged off any idea that hes the top candidate among the handful of names mentioned for the job, including Carolyn Clancy, director of the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; and Brent James, executive director of the Intermountain Healthcares Institute for Health Care Delivery Research in Salt Lake City.
What can I say? JCAHO will do what it will do, Jessee said. Im quite content with what Im doing. Ive heard nothingIve not heard of any time frame. If Im a betting man, my bet is on Carolyn Clancy. Shes run a very high-profile agency on safety. Shes demonstrated political skills. And shes a woman, which would be a very positive thing to break out of the good-old-boy network. I have no idea if shes interested or not
By all accounts, Jessee appears content and comfortable at the Englewood, Colo.-based MGMA. But his wife has family in the Chicago suburbs, where JCAHO is headquartered, and his salary and benefits last year amounted to about $485,000not bad at all, but well below OLearys compensation package of about $875,000.
Theres still plenty of time for things to change. OLeary, JCAHOs chief for the last two decades, is not slated to leave his job until Dec. 30, 2007. Sources at the MGMA, meantime, say Jessee has a contract that was recently extended through June 2008.
Next year, the annual meeting decamps to Philadelphia.
Somehow, we dont think it will be the same.