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SOME DOCTORS LIVE HIGH ON HOSPITAL PERKS

While patients are digging deeper into their pockets to pay their hospital bills, some of their doctors are getting Club Med treatment thanks to hospital employee perks.

Hospitals nationwide keep their employees happy with Mexican vacations, fashion shows and golf tournaments. At the same time, those hospitals are increasing their patient fees and are lobbying for higher Medicare reimbursement rates from the taxpayers.The hospitals say rewarding employees with special perks is a sound way to do business. But our sources say that the expenses worried the Department of Health and Human Services enough to send its inspector general to investigate the non-medical overhead costs of some health-care organizations.

The results of that investigation will be unveiled March 18 in a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. The committee will learn that, in one case, a hospital spent more than $15,000 to buy turkeys for its employees at Thanksgiving.

Three hospitals in the San Antonio area, all managed by the Humana health management organization, sponsored a golf and tennis tournament for the doctors who use those hospitals. The day-long event at an exclusive San Antonio club cost $7,592.58, including tennis lessons, liquor, gift certificates and sport towels for the players.

The inspector general also looked at Allied Management Services of Scranton, Pa., which runs rehabilitation hospitals and a nursing home. The company spent more than $7,000 on a mountain retreat for its top 19 executives last year. Allied says it was a goal-planning session. Last year, Allied also spent $7,097.74 on sweatshirts. In 1990, the company bought 1,460 turkeys for its employees, costing $15,423.23.

The audit at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia turned up a $3,143.30 charge for moving one doctor's 7,000 pounds of books and furniture, $300 for a fashion show on Secretary's Day, and $880 to send an employee on vacation in Cancun, Mexico. In the case of the trip, the employee had submitted a suggestion that hospital officials said would save them $42,000.

Spokesmen at the hospitals defended their expenses as the normal cost of doing business in the private sector and are only a fraction of the cost of running a hospital.

The idea that a business could operate without perks for its employees is "puritanical," the Humana spokesman told us.

But the patients who suffer sticker shock when they get their bills may not agree. And neither may the federal government, which is picking up an increasing share through Medicare.