Eclectic commentary from a progressive voice in the red state

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Congratulations hospital industry

Less than a week after the bigwigs at the American Hospital Association and AHA and the Federation of American Hospitals praised Biff Tannen’s transition team for its plans to nominate Tom Price (R-Ga.) as Health and Human Services secretary, they might have to explain how they got that
brown stuff on their noses. The AHA is the major trade group for hospitals hiding their enormous cash flows behind their nonprofit status while the FAH represents hospitals hiding their licentious greed behind the term “investor-owned” instead of “for-profit.”

In a joint letter to leaders on both sides of the congressional aisle, these two trade groups voiced concern, if not panic, that killing off the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, would immeasurable hurt hospitals and the entire health care system. These are same consequences this Cassandra-like blogger voiced last month with Price’s announcement. Here is the key point in that Nov. 29 post, “Dismantling those insurance programs — and don’t for a minute call those programs socialized medicine because they are not — will cut off huge cash flows to hospitals, doctors and other providers. Supporting (Biff) Tannen’s and the right-wing agenda will, and there is no other way to put it, folks, bite them on the ass.”

While the Huffington Post claimed the two trade groups demanded a less Draconian approach than that the retrogressive GOPers have promised, the Washington Post was less flamboyant in its language. By framing the issue as it did, the latter news outlet appropriately portrayed AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack and Charles N. “Chip” Kahn III, president of FAH, as members of the brown-nosed Caspar Milquetoast Club. I am sure the collective justification will be along the lines of saying the hospital groups respect Price’s experience as a doctor, but they can still disagree with the proposed policy changes.

This is typical “business-as-usual” hypocrisy from the hospitals. These trade groups were either too gutless enough to stand up to the Price proposal or they weren’t smart enough to see what Biff and his minions represent. The entire industry has swaddled itself in the angelic gowns of godly goodness to convince the public of the industry’s goodwill. But, the reality is the industry maximizes cash flow, some using the mantra “no margin, no mission.” Or, at the institutional level, they justify themselves claiming fiduciary responsibility. In taking these positions, however, the industry has fallen victim to its own ineptitude.

Over the last 55 or so years, the entire health industry went through a Karl Rovian looking glass. Instead of fighting the framing of health economics as free market, the industry rolled over and played dead. Instead of continuing the cooperation fostered in the legislation of the late 1960s, the industry sucked up to the Reagonites. Instead participating in the public health roles they claimed to adopt, the industry shed the costly services without fighting for more money and for their communities. Hospital administrators continued their pathological edifice complexes, duplicating facilities in communities across the nation, driving up costs and driving down quality.

Now, instead of having evolved into a kinder and gentler society, most of the industry is down in the swamp Biff has promised to drain. And with Price as a potential cabinet member fitting right into a racist, misogynistic, homophobic administration, the AHA and FAH are guilty by association. The industry, its leaders and those in the other clinical professional organizations surrendered any moral high ground. Sooner or later, this will all come back to haunt them. It is just a question of time.

George Schwarz, publisher of The Amarillo Independent, spent 25 years in the health care industry after earning a master’s in hospital and health administration from the University of Iowa. He worked in community health planning, staff positions in health care organizations, middle management and a CEO. The types of organizations included long-term care, outpatient clinics and acute care hospitals. In 1996, he became a journalist specializing in health care and investigative reporting.