The Brief: June 4, 2010

Physician-owned hospitals, which provide some of the best health care in the nation but have been in danger since health insurance reform passed, are taking their case to court.

THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Proponents of physician-owned hospitals, which provide some of the best health care in the nation but have been in danger since health insurance reform passed, are taking their case to court.

The Texas Spine and Joint Hospital in Tyler has teamed with Physician Hospitals of America, a lobbying arm for physician-owned hospitals, to challenge the constitutionality of the new health care law, which includes a provision prohibiting the establishment of new doctor-owned hospitals and the expansion of exisiting ones, the Austin American-Statesman reports. The law targeted physician-owned hospitals — which receive funding from doctor-investors and major hospital companies, and oftentimes more closely resemble upscale hotels — to limit conflicts of interest in which doctors can refer patients to hospitals they own, and to keep physician-owned hospitals from siphoning patients away from community hospitals.

The Tribune's Emily Ramshaw reported on this issue in November, before health care reform had been passed and any lawsuits had been filed:

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"A big part of the game is how to save money. Hospital and physician reimbursement is of course going to be part of that debate,” said Dr. James Swan, a health care policy expert at the University of North Texas. “The physician-owned hospitals, let's face it, have got a great big bull’s-eye painted on them.”

But the physician-owned hospitals are formidable — and vocal — opponents. And they’ve got staunch allies in the Texas delegation, working overtime to preserve a hospital model that has flourished in their home state. So far, Texas has nearly 70 physician-owned hospitals in operation, and at least 50 others either under construction or in development.

Physician Hospitals of America's executive director, Molly Sandvig, called the Texas Spine and Joint Hospital "a great example of what is going on nationally" and said it chose to sue because it had previously planned to expand its operations, according to the Statesman.

CULLED:

  • Preliminary scores for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills are in, and so far, the state's report card looks promising. In Austin, for the first time since the test's adoption in 2003, all elementary and middle schools appear to have met state performance standards. In Dallas, low-performing high schools made big gains, as did the state's high school juniors.
  • Violent crime is down there, officers are facing fewer violent attacks and a spokesman says the region is "safer now than it's ever been." It's ... the U.S.-Mexico border? Despite ongoing drug- and gang-related violence threatening to spill into the U.S. and President Obama's recent pledge to send 1,200 National Guard troops its way, the border is statistically safe, The Associated Press has found. The economy, which has depressed illegal immigration, may be a contributing factor.
  • It's U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Houston Mayor Annise Parker, together at last. The uniting cause? "Murderabilia," a term used to describe collectibles, often trafficked online, belonging to or related to high-profile criminals. The two politicians will announce today the introduction of legislation to ban the sale of such items, according to the Houston Chronicle. "It is reprehensible that criminals who are supposed to be paying their debt to society are exploiting their notoriety and profiting from their deplorable crimes," Cornyn said.

"Saying the district attorney doesn't fight crime is like saying Kobe Bryant doesn't make baskets." — Eric Celeste, campaign spokesman for Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins, fending off allegations that the DA's involvement in a controversy involving Dallas County constables has rendered him ineffective

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And check back Sunday for the first joint project between the Trib and the Houston Chronicle, which will also be publishing the story on its front page. To whet your appetite: a teaser.

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