Despite its name, HRDI is a "for-profit company owned by about three dozen hospital executives, but underwritten by 40 or so of its handpicked corporate members, all suppliers to hospitals." These "executives benefit from payments made by companies their hospitals do business with." HRDI industry members are limited to "only two competing companies in any specific field."
The purpose of the organization is apparently to give hospital suppliers access to the CEOs of large not-for-profit hospitals. "Last May, more than 130 representatives from 40 health care companies were scheduled to attend confidential consulting sessions at the Broadmoor, a Colorado Springs hotel. When not attending the sessions, hospital chief executives and suppliers mingled at company-sponsored tennis, golf and social events. Each year, H.R.D.I. holds two gatherings like the one in Colorado, where each corporate member gets a meeting of up to three hours with five or six chief executives, according to [HRDI CEO]Mr. Mecklenburg." "'The typical organization is paying $40,000,' Mr. Mecklenberg said. 'It can be more, but that would not be typical.' Additional access to hospital executives and their institutions can cost companies $55,000 a year or even more. For example, a special two- to three-day visit to a specific hospital costs $2,000 a person, according to H.R.D.I., which says most of that money is eventually passed on to the hospital."
"It is unclear exactly how much hospital executives, who are the shareholders of the healthcare institute, earn annually for consulting at the two conferences. Asked to verify a report that some members earned as much as $50,000, Mr. Mecklenberg initially denied it. 'Our observation and recollection is $20,000 to $30,000 a year,' he said. 'It may be more than that but we don’t have data in front of us, but it’s certainly not $50,000.'
Mr Mecklenberg himself has an interesting history. He is "a former chairman of the American Hospital Association, the industry’s largest trade group." Furthermore, now he "not only runs a large nonprofit hospital, Northwestern Memorial in Chicago, but he also serves on the board of Becton, Dickinson and Company, a major supplier of medical devices to hospitals around the world, including his own. Becton, Dickinson pays the institute for marketing advice, and the institute pays Mr. Mecklenburg $50,000 a year, mostly for participating in two national conferences, according to the group."
HRDI is now under the scrutiny of Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who "is investigating whether the organization allows certain vendors to buy access to hospital leaders who are in a position to influence what supplies or services their institutions purchase. As a result, Mr. Blumenthal said, hospitals may not be getting the best deals, either in terms of cost or quality. 'At the very least it suggests insider dealings — an insidious, incestuous, insider system,' said Mr. Blumenthal...." He is also investigating whether the limitation on HRDI membership to only two companies from each sector violates anti-trust regulations. Mr Blumenthal recently testified that HRDI is a "secretive" network of "ethically questionable business arrangements." Note that until recently, the organization did not allow public access to its web-site, and did not list its members, although its current membership list and list of corporate sponsors are currently on the web.
The Times' investigative reporting has opened yet another window on the pervasive web of conflicts of interest that entangles health care. The report reveals problems at multiple levels:
- Hired leadership of not-for-profit hospitals seem to be personally profiting from their positions of trust
- Hospital leaders not only have cozy relationships with at least some suppliers, but are paid handsomely by these same suppliers for their supposed market advice, raising questions about how effectively their hospitals will negotiate with these suppliers
- The leader of the organization that makes these cozy relationships possible is simultaneously a not-for-profit hospital CEO and a member of the board of directors to a major hospital supplier, and hence has a fiduciary duty to that organization that seemingly clashes with his duty to his main employer
And people wonder why health care is so expensive? And think that the only solution to the rising cost of health care is to keep cutting physicians' fees for "cognitive services?" (See post here.)
Note that the well-publicized article by Brennan et al that castigated physicians for accepting so much as a coffee mug with a company logo from a drug or device company would have put academic medical center administrators in charge of enforcement of this stringent policy, the same administrators who may personally get paid tens of thousands of dollars to sit give market advice to the companies whose logos are on the coffee mugs. LOL. (See post here.)
Instead, as we have said before, there needs to be a broad, impartially enforced policy that bans major conflicts of interest affecting all decision makers in health care.
And we need some of leaders of large health care organizations, not just pharma and device companies, but also managed care organizations and insurance companies, hospitals, academic medical centers and health care systems, and medical schools and universities, to to look in the mirror to see who has been dodging responsibility for rising costs, declining access, stagnant quality, and demoralized providers.