Saturday, May 31, 2014

In his weekly private letter to friends and colleagues, former Atrius Health CEO Gene Lindsey notes:

As of yesterday’s Globe, my statement in last week’s letter that there had been no editorial, op-ed or letter to the editor comments in The Globe about the AGs decision to endorse Partners’ Healthcare’s acquisition of Hallmark Health and South Shore Hospital has remained true. Just as Garrison Keillor might say,"Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown”, I could say, “Well, it’s been a quiet week at The Globe, my hometown paper.” I would have thought that all of The Globe’s editorial focus and expertise would have been brought to bear on an issue with such significant future implication for healthcare in Massachusetts.

Well Gene, it goes well beyond the Globe, and the answer might be that so many people in town receive financial support from Partners that the public commentary on such issues is biased by that financial power.  Let me provide two examples.

Take Health Care For All, the most prominent health care NGO in the state, whose mission statement reads:

HCFA seeks to create a consumer-centered health care system that provides comprehensive, affordable, accessible, culturally competent, high quality care and consumer education for everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us. We work to achieve this as leaders in public policy, advocacy, education and service to consumers in Massachusetts. 

HCFA publishes a blog called "A Healthy Blog" with wide-ranging commentary about health care issues in the state.  I've reviewed the contents of that blog, and I have also searched for public comments by HCFA executives about the PHS market power issues.  I find none.

Prominent among HCFA's supporters is, you guessed it, Partners Healthcare. Is this just a coincidence?

Take WBUR and its Commonhealth blog.  Yes, they do cover the Partners issues and do so as fairly and comprehensively as anyone in town.  But again, prominent among WBUR's supporters is, you guessed it, Partners Healthcare.  Here, the issue is not that PHS influences the editorial policy of WBUR:  That clearly does not happen.

In this case, the power is more subtle but no less effective: Whatever points might be made in the Commonhealth blog on this topic--read by a few thousand readers--are dramatically reduced in impact by the quid pro quo given to Partners, i.e., repeated self-serving messages on air, heard by tens of thousands of listeners during drive time. In addition, as you see above, PHS gets to place an ad on the Commonhealth site, persisting with its message day after day.

Sorry Gene, the fix is in.  Don't expect a level playing field when it comes to a public debate on the Partners Healthcare market power issues.


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