Lobbying orgies, big and small, on health reform

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The lobbying dollars being lathered around Congress are the best reason to click here and send a simple fax to your members of Congress, letting them know that votes as well as dollars are at stake in health reform. The whole health care industry is pouring in at least $1.4 million dollars a day to preserve its profits at your expense. But it’s easier to understand what’s happening on a smaller scale. So let’s go to McAllen, Texas.

In a New York Times story today we find out how a small McAllen hospital with incredibly high per-patient spending threw a Democratic fund-raiser and ended up with everything it wants.

Here are some key points from the story:

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.

Republicans got a smaller share, but they’re not the ones writing the health reform bill.

So what has happened in the bill-writing to justify all these contributions from one very small hospital, owned by the doctors who practice there?

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.

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.

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.

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.

key provision would limit a hospital’s ownership by doctors to the
level in place at the time of enactment. That is a change from previous
language in House bills to restrict physician ownership to 40 percent.
It would have forced Doctors Hospital, where physicians have an
82-percent stake, to be sold or required some of its owners to divest.

Rep. Pete Stark of California, who has championed broad and tough health reforms, told the Times that the physician-owned hospitals “just thought they could buy
their way out of it, and it’s a sad commentary on the Congress.”

Such doctor-owned hospitals do drive up health care costs, but it’s nothing compared to the unnecessary hundreds of billions of dollars paid out because of insurance company and drug company overhead and complexity. It’s just easier to understand what’s happening in the context of one questionable hospital. 

So translate those dollars from the McAllen facility to the tens of millions of your own health insurance premium dollars being spent to make sure that profit continues to come first. If Congress listens to the money, we’ll all remain just a bothersome drag on insurers’ bottom line and health care will never be a right. So sign the message to Congress now, unless you’ve got $1.4 million a day to get the ear of lawmakers.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdoghttps://consumerwatchdog.org
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

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