Caritas Christi / Cerberus
We posted recently about the proposed takeover of the not-for-profit Caritas Christi hospital system by the Cerberus Capital Management private equity firm. We proposed skepticism about the idea. For-profit hospitals have not been shown to provide better, cheaper, or more accessible care than not-for-profit hospitals. There is reason to worry that a private-equity firm would put margin ahead of mission. The Boston Herald interviewed Dr Ralph de la Toree, the current CEO of Caritas Christi, who would continue to run the health system after the takeover. Asked about the role of Cerberus,
De la Torre dismissed concerns that Cerberus’ executives - and their investments - may not jibe with Caritas’ social justice mission.
Cerberus investor J. Ezra Merkin, for example, is facing civil fraud charges because of his ties to disgraced money manager Bernard Madoff. Besides its failed Chrysler investment, Cerberus has also invested in companies, such as gunmaker Remington Arms, that some Catholics may not support.
De la Torre admitted Cerberus has a diverse portfolio and said most boards of local nonprofits have members who have made their money through questionable means.
The last sentence is a good example of the appeal to common practice. Basically, the logical fallacy is that because many do it, doing it must be good.
Although we are often critical of the cronyism of boards of for-profit corporations and not-for profit organizations, even I would not go so far as to suggest that most boards include people who have made money unethically. Regardless of the prevalence of this pheonomenon, however, boards of health care organizations should be composed of people of integrity and honesty who support the mission of the organizations.
Professor Uwe Reinhardt
We recently posted about how prominent health economist and public health care intellectual Professor Uwe Reinhardt of Princeton University has failed to disclose conflicts of interest when opining about health policy. A follow-up interview of Reinhardt on SFGate.com included:
I invite you to look at the Wall Street Journal [reporters] and see their list of boards.
I have no idea whether Wall Street Journal reporters fail to disclose their memberships on boards of companies relevant to the subject of their reporting. We have frequently discussed conflicts of interest and how they can influence medical care, teaching and research, and health care research and policy. I agree that such conflicts are frequent, and often go undisclosed. Again, however, Prof Reinhardt seemed to be using an appeal to common practice. Just because others have failed to disclose conflicts of interest does not make such failure right.
Interested readers may want to review the interviews of De La Torre and Reinhardt to see if they can find other logical fallacies.
Note that we have frequently quoted Dr Joe Collier, "people who have conflicts of interest often find giving clear advice (or opinions) particularly difficult." [Collier J. The price of independence. Br Med J 2006; 332: 1447-9. Link here.] We have discussed examples of how conflicted people seem to easily resort to logical fallacies to defend their conflicts (e.g., see post here.)
I do not think it is too much to ask prominent health care leaders to use evidence and logic, not logical fallacies to make their arguments.
Those who do use logical fallacies are inviting even more skepticism about their arguments and the agenda behind them.