With the CMS having decided against renewing its moratorium on the construction of new specialty hospitals, but with congressional interest in the issue remaining and a new Democratic leadership in Congress, it is no surprise that the mood among the backers of niche facilities would be described as cautiously optimistic.
Thats what Doug Johnson, the new president of the Physician Hospitals of America, told me at the groups recent annual meeting in Newport Beach, Calif. Readers may know the group by its former name, the American Surgical Hospital Association. The name change was meant to focus more on the physician owners of these niche facilities. The strategy may have worked: More than 300 participants attended the conference from Nov. 2-4, up from nearly 200 attendees last year. Then again, maybe it was the weather, coming as it did in November.
Still, the members seemed energized, poised to resume what had been a building boom prior to the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which initiated the federal moratorium.
For the most part, time was well spent during panel presentations and small-group sessions, with a few notable exceptions. In a panel titled, Were Good for Communities, one speaker focused more on his photo presentation, which included pictures of his rural dental practice and several family snapshots, than on the value of physician-owned hospitals. To be fair, he did spend some time discussing his work in pediatric dentistry, and he reported that 11% of rural Americans have never seen a dentist. But his long-winded, seemingly aimless remarks caused some people to leave the room. I found it interesting that he proclaimed himself as the most liberal person at the meeting, but thought his presentation would have been more effective had he suggested how an association with such strong support from the political right could appeal successfully to left-leaning politicians. And speaking of politics
Meeting participants were surprised when Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a supporter of physician-owned hospitals, interrupted the general session with a phone call on Fri., Nov. 3. Just four days before the mid-term elections, Barton called PHA board member Greg Weiss to ask his support for 12 Republicans in tight races. Weiss was at the meeting and arranged for Barton to address a room of attendees by phone. Molly Gutierrez, executive director at PHA, said she received only a few complaints about a fundraising plea in the middle of an annual meeting. My response was that it was impromptuwe thought it would be educational for our members to see advocacy efforts, said Gutierrez, who added that the call resulted in four checks, a few credit donations and donations to all 12 candidates from the associations PAC. Despite the last-ditch effort, most of the candidates lost their races, although Barton was elected to another term.
Among the meetings planned speakers was former Sen. David Durenberger of Minnesota, who gave a presentation titled, The Medical Arms Race Syndrome: Disease or Cure? Currently the chair of the National Institute of Health Policy in Minneapolis, Durenberger discussed the need for strong leadership, but said members should ask the question, leadership for what? Leadership, he said, must involve the community by including players such as physicians, employers and union leaders. The line between capitalism and greed is very hard to drive, Durenberger said after his formal presentation. Think about the community and what do they really need.
The greed comment was slightly ironic, considering the fact that Durenberger was denounced by a unanimous Senate vote in 1990 for, among other things, his structuring of real estate transactions and receipt of Senate per diem reimbursement for a Minneapolis condominium; his repeated acceptance of prohibited gifts of limousine service for personal purposes; and the conversion of a campaign contribution to his personal use.
Randy Fenninger, PHAs lobbyist, encouraged attendees to cultivate strong relationships with their local leaders, including legislators, county officials, planning and zoning committee members, and one other key group. Get to know your local media-newspaper, television, radio, Fenninger said. Talk to the editorial board of your newspaper. It means a tremendous amount to involve the press. He also gave participants copies of government reports and news articles about physician-owned specialty hospitals that members should use when meeting with local officials. Soon after, Fenninger jokingly told attendees that its better to provide journalists with summaries of detailed reports, considering many reporters are too lazy to read full-length studies.
This item was originally posted Nov. 17.