Wednesday, March 31, 2010

qotd: Cerberus Capital provides another Massachusetts lesson for U.S.

The Boston Globe
March 30, 2010
Seeking lower-cost care
By Steven Syre and Robert Gavin

The New York private equity firm that last week struck a deal to buy Caritas Christi Health Care could build the chain of six Catholic community hospitals into a competitive lower-cost provider of medical services in Massachusetts, touting it as a profitable national business model in the age of health care reform, analysts say.

Caritas, which also includes a physicians network, could become a new cost-conscious option for more patients under such a system.

Cerberus Capital Management plans to invest $830 million to acquire Caritas Christi and turn the charity into a for-profit venture. The investment, which includes money to reduce debt and invest in renovations and upgrades, would appear to be a steep price for the Caritas business as it exists today.

But the hospitals could emerge as an attractive lower-cost alternative to Boston's big teaching hospitals as health care reform moves forward soon in Massachusetts and later across the country. And, as reforms aimed at controlling costs take effect, an increasing number of health insurance policies may well offer patients a choice: Go to a famous teaching hospital and pay more or go elsewhere and spend less.

If the ambitious plan works, it could eventually mean a sizable payoff for Cerberus and its investors, said Howard Anderson, senior lecturer at MIT's Sloan School of Management. With a successful health care business, Cerberus could cash out by taking the company public and selling stock to investors, or by selling the chain to another for-profit health care firm.

Comment:  Massachusetts has been held up as a model on which our new federal health financing program is based. The purchase of Caritas Christi Health Care by Cerberus Capital Management may give us a hint as to what efforts under such a reform model might be made to slow the growth in health care costs.

Cerberus Capital Management plans to convert Caritas Christi into "an attractive lower-cost alternative" to Boston's expensive teaching hospitals. 

Their concept of lowering costs is right out of the book on the promised rewards of free markets. They are going to take a chain of low-cost charity hospitals and convert it into a for-profit venture. Then they are going to reap a "sizable payoff" by cashing out, either by taking the company public and selling stock to investors, or by selling the chain to another for-profit health care firm.

The model of reform that has just been enacted expands the lucrative health care marketplace for opportunists such as these venture capitalists. These entities will be crawling out of the woodwork to try to glom on to a share of the massive infusion of tax dollars to be redistributed by the private insurance companies. Should we really have expected anything else?

It's not too late to regroup and do it right.

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