Calculating the cost of the Memorial Commission

The Memorial Commission’s proposal about the future of Memorial Health System is in the hands of city council now. So what did it cost to get there?

At least $331,479.31, according to Memorial’s accounting.

The bulk of that went to the Bachman Group for public relations work and to Larry Singer, a Chicago-based health care consultant who guided the commission through its work.

The commission selected in 2009 by City Council and charged with determining the fate of the municipally owned hospital system, started its work in February.

It spent the most money in May, a total of $26,822 for Bachman and $23,750 for Singer.

Overall, Bachman received a total of $138,230, which included $127,136 under her contract and $11,094.78 for expenses. Singer received a total of $142,500 under his contract, and $50,748 in expenses.

These figures don’t include hours spent by Memorial staff providing historical information about the hospital’s function and its financial statements. Nor does it include the hundreds of hours spent by members of the commission itself — not only in meetings, but discussing their goals with civic groups and city council members, as well as gaining information about the state of health care in the United States.

In the end, the hospital got what its administrators wanted: a recommendation to spin the system into an independent, stand-alone nonprofit system, free of city control. Under the proposal, taxpayers are relieved from both financial and legal burdens, while still retaining some measure of local control over the system.

Was it worth the money? Time will tell. The city council has yet to vote on the proposal, saying it wants to work out details such as a financial return on its investment in Memorial, and what form the new governance model will take.

By the way, taxpayers didn’t foot the bill — all the money for the commission’s expenses, including room rentals, food and the pay of two consultants — came from Memorial itself. That does, of course, mean money was diverted from patient care.

Medicare threatened by budget deficit

Congress this week delayed a 22 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement rate, postponing what is likely for next month.

Amid growing concerns about the federal deficit, more groups are suggesting cuts in Medicare spending.

These proposals, put forth by members of bipartisan deficit-reduction panels and Republican lawmakers, are aimed at reducing the $1.3 trillion federal budget deficit.

Typically, they do so in part by requiring beneficiaries to pay a larger share of Medicare. One of the more radical ideas would overhaul the 45-year old program by giving seniors a set amount of money to buy their own coverage.

Some groups, such as the Century Foundation and the Economic Policy Institute, say the new health reform law includes cost-saving measures that would reduce spending on Medicare. Still, because of the growing population of older Americans, the program is expected to cost $519 billion this year and swell to $989 billion in 2020.

The budget-cutting proponents are going to face big battles with AARP, the national lobbying group for seniors. It claims proposals to have seniors pay more will only hurt low-income beneficiaries.

The 22-percent cut will be up for a vote in the Senate in January. This week’s delay was the latest since 1997, when the law was passed to control Medicare spending. The cuts were supposed to be spread out over time, and now have accumulated, forcing lawmakers to scramble to “patch” for a few months or a year.

State pertussis cases on the rise

The second half of 2010 has brought an increase in the number of pertussis cases, leading public health officials to call for more widespread vaccinations.

From July 1 to Nov. 13, about 229 cases were reported, compared to the 2007-2009 average of 77 cases a year.

Most of the cases are in children, ages 7-14, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Pertussis is rarely fatal in older children, but officials are concerned that infants could start contracting the disease if it continues to spread. Pertussis in infants is often severe and potentially fatal.

In light of the recent outbreak, state officials are asking that children, ages 12 to 15, receive a pertussis booster. Children ages 4 to 6 should also get a booster.

The largest number of cases has been reported in Jefferson and Arapahoe counties, followed by Pueblo, Boulder, Denver, Adams, Douglas, Weld and El Paso counties.

All the counties show a substantial increase in the past two years for the same calendar period.

Amy Gillentine can be reached at 719-329-5205 or at Friend her on Facebook.