Pay To Play

In the Healthcare debate, there is an internal battle going on, one where Physician-owned hospitals are seeking favoritism in the bill’s language and restrictions, and using a LOT of money to grease the skids. Probably the most egregious of these is located in McAllen, Texas, on the southern border.

Doctor owned hospitals can and do make a whole lot more money for doctors, because in addition to their fees for service, they naturally get a share of the hospital’s profits. This is a double edged sword in the medical world, and can be seen as a conflict of interest.

The gleaming, well-equipped Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, which has expanded to 503 beds from 30 in six years, has become a footnote in the health care debate. It was featured unflatteringly in a June article in The New Yorker about geographic disparities in health care spending, a story that President Obama has cited repeatedly in speeches and meetings.

The article, which is sharply disputed by hospital officials, posited that physician ownership provided “an unholy temptation to overorder” tests and procedures because doctors earn not only their fees but also a share of the hospital’s profits. At Doctors Hospital, where 353 of its 452 owners are physicians, net revenue amounted to $64 million in 2008.

Leading members of Congress have long been concerned about the potential for conflicts of interest, lapses in patient safety and cherry-picking of patients with the best insurance at the country’s 230 physician-owned hospitals. Past efforts to restrict ownership by doctors have stalled, but language to that effect is currently included in health care legislation in Congress, though in ways that are unlikely to hurt Doctors Hospital.

Despite the unflattering story, the Doctors at the hospital are doing their best, feverishly throwing as much money as they legally can at the Democrats, in the hopes that they can receive preferential treatment.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee collected nearly $500,000 at a reception here on March 30, mostly from physicians and others affiliated with Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, financial disclosure records show.

The event was held at the home of a prominent McAllen developer, Alonzo Cantu, a hospital founder, investor and board member who has raised prodigious sums from the Rio Grande Valley for an array of Democrats.

Another event at Mr. Cantu’s home, in September 2007, brought in at least $800,000 for the committee’s House counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to disclosure reports. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, was in attendance and cut a ribbon at the hospital’s new women’s center while in town.

Yep, this hospital is a money machine, both for the doctors themselves, but also for the Democrats, who line up at the trough like the piggies they are. To be fair, the Republicans would like to shoulder in also, but they are in the out crowd this year. Still, this is one hospital that probably extracts your wallet in the first procedure, and proceeds from there. There does not seem to be a charitable bone in their body, unless the charity is doctor- related.

Representative Rubén Hinojosa, a Democrat whose district includes the hospital, said he set up some of the Capitol Hill meetings. Mr. Hinojosa said he never mentioned the campaign contributions and could not judge whether the money had opened doors.

But, he said, the hospital’s officials “are listened to,” adding, “Every chairman of a committee that has influence over them had meetings with them.”

The Senate Finance Committee has yet to release its final draft, but bills passed by two House committees would prevent the opening of new physician-owned hospitals by disqualifying them from receiving Medicare reimbursements. Existing facilities like Doctors Hospital would be grandfathered in.

Yes- I am sure they would be- 1.3 million dollars has that effect when donated to the Democratic committees- this is a blatant pay to play scheme, and part of the reason the Healthcare plan is 1017 pages long, and as Rep. John Conyers, (an un-indicted crook)  has said,” needs two lawyers to read it.”

Whether or not there is cause and effect, some of the hospital’s beneficiaries have passionately supported its position. In November, the South Texas doctors raised nearly $60,000 for Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Houston. Last week, Ms. Lee, who has a physician-owned hospital in her district, inserted comments in The Congressional Record against restricting the hospitals’ growth. She did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Disclosure reports show that about 220 donors from the McAllen area contributed to the Senate Democratic committee for the March event. Receipts totaled at least $425,000, about 2 percent of the group’s collections for the first half of the year.

Yes, all the little piggies are busy lining up for their swill, Jackson- Lee foremost among them.  I guess that when the Resident said that lobbyists would have no influence in his administration, he was just kidding, right? I mean, what would you call this action on the part of this Hospital alone, and you have to know that there are many more physician- owned Hospitals who are doing their own influence buying, and that is exactly what it is. Okay, maybe it is just renting, but the intent is still the same- to come out of this Health fiasco as intact as possible, and hopefully in better shape than before.

I just don’t know why they didn’t just name the Hospital after their patron saint, Gordon Gekko- then they could inscribe his immortal words on the front of the Entranceway.

” Greed is Good.”

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2 Responses to “Pay To Play”

  1. Years ago, I had two procedures at a doctors-owned hospital. Both times, my health insurance wouldn’t cover the procedures (one a surgery, the other laser surgery but not Lasix or anything akin to it). I found the care excellent — much better than the care I got at the county hospitals.

    Best of all, both times the hospital negotiated the price way down. In the second instance, the price dropped from $1296 to $395. I guess the doc owned enough of a share in the hospital to negotiate the price that well.

    Doctors-owned hospitals might be different today. The above procedures, both ophthalmic in nature, occurred in 1984 and 1986.

    • Blake says:

      Many doctors can and will drop the price on self- pay patients, because they know they can pick up the cost off of insurance or Medicare and Medicaid.
      The article is not an indictment of doctors per se, but rather the system that insists on money to grease the way. What it appears is that despite the money, many doctor’s hospitals may be discriminated against as the legislature pulls the playing field down to make it level for the county- owned hospitals, which can have some very poor care at times.
      As the article said, this specific hospital would be “grandfathered in”.