Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Money and Medicine

The company behind Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-TN) family fortune could profit from a bill the Senate Finance Committee's writing.

HCA, Inc has lobbied Congress to limit the growth of speciality hospitals. And the Committee's taking up the idea. HCA claims new hospitals draw away high-dollar heart and surgery patients needed for other hospitals to subsidize unprofitable services -- things like emergency rooms.

A Family History

Senate Majority Leader Frist's father and brother founded HCA. His brother served as CEO until 1993 and still sits on its board of directors. HCA is now the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain. New speciality hospitals mean competition for the 190 full servise hospitals HCA owns. And even though it's in a blind trust, Sen Frist owns $26 million in HCA stock.

Lopsided Lobbying

Opponents of the limits spent a combined total of $440,000 last year lobbying for their position.

On the other side, the Federation of American Hospitals represents HCA and other general hosptials. They spent $7 million lobbying in the first half of 2004 (the most recent numbers available). -- which tracks lobbyist spending -- ranks them as 10th in spending among everyone lobbying Congress. That's pretty high up the food chain.

On top of that, they've hired 16 additional lobbyists. Among them is Anne Phelps. She's a former aide to Sen Frist.

Medicine & Money

The bill would limit growth by changing the way Medicare pays hospitals. But the speciality hospitals say they have a 16% lower mortality rate in-hospital than general hospitals -- largely because they specialize in one kind of treatment. They also claim to cut hospital stays by more than a day on average.

But even if those claims aren't skewed by the specialty hospitals' lobbyists, you don't have to be a brain surgeon to figure out how Washington is likely to come down on a battle between your health -- and special interests' money. (The Tennessean)

[Crossposted at]

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