Texas Politics had an item on Friday that perhaps should have received a higher profile.
One of the controversial tenets of the abortion restriction bill would require all abortions to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, which are a distinct type of healthcare facility set up for outpatient surgeries. Abortion rights advocates say the new requirement would force many clinics to close because they wouldn’t be able to afford to upgrade their facilities. They also say the upgrades are unnecessary and that no data shows current clinics aren’t properly equipped to provide good care.
If the bill passes, only five Texas abortion clinics would remain open — those that are already equipped as ambulatory surgical centers, advocates say. But a question remains: would the 420 other ambulatory surgical centers that exist in Texas begin performing the operation? Abortion rights advocates predict that the demand for the procedure won’t disappear with passage of the law.
One company that will be faced with that decision is United Surgical Partners International, based in Addison, TX. Their vice-president of government affairs is Milla Perry Jones, Gov. Rick Perry’s sister. She is also on the board of the Texas Ambulatory Surgical Center Society. It should be noted that the legislation now under consideration by the Texas Legislature is patterned after proposals that have been adopted in other states, so it did not originate with Gov. Perry’s office. Rich Parsons, a Perry spokesman said he could not say whether Perry has discussed the legislation with his sister, but said, “he strongly supports protecting women’s health by raising the standard of care they receive at abortion clinics.”
Uh-huh. As both Texpatriate and Nonsequiteuse noted, there’s more to the story than that. Here’s a Texas Observer story from last year that delved into the Perry connection to ambulatory surgical centers.
Both Governor Perry and his sister have championed doctor-owned facilities in Texas and Washington.
The trade publication “Who’s Who in the Ambulatory Surgery Industry” describes Milla Perry Jones as “a true advocate for the physician-owned healthcare model.” Industry publications say she manages United Surgical’s “state and federal advocacy efforts” and coaches entrepreneurial doctors on how to lobby public officials. The governor’s sister has held leadership positions with the Texas Physician Hospitals Advocacy Center and the Texas Ambulatory Surgery Center Society, both headed by Austin lobbyist Bobby Hillert. Hillert’s ambulatory group “supports physician ownership in all forms” and opposes “any attempts to ban or restrict physician ownership in Texas, in any manner.” Hillert says Milla Perry Jones sat on the PAC committee of his ambulatory group, which endorsed Rick Perry’s 2010 reelection. Milla Perry Jones declined to discuss her work with the Observer, referring all questions to Hillert. “I’m trying to be as helpful as I can,” she said before terminating the call. “I should’ve hung up two minutes ago.”
President Obama and other critics argue that doctors who own stakes in medical facilities drive up health costs because they have a financial interest in ordering excessive procedures. In one of many such studies, a 2006 federal report found that Medicare costs are 20 percent higher at doctor-owned orthopedic surgical hospitals than at competing community hospitals. These studies typically do not determine if the extra procedures are beneficial. The doctor-owned industry says it delivers superior care and points to contradictory research that does not associate doctor ownership with higher costs.
No state has more doctor-owned hospitals than Texas, which claims more than 90 of about 300 such hospitals nationwide. Only California has more doctor-owned ambulatory outpatient facilities, most of which are part owned by physicians. Milla Perry Jones’ company owns interests in 13 U.S. surgical hospitals and 171 surgical centers. United Surgical co-owns its typical facility with both doctors and local non-profit hospitals. The company’s 2010 annual report says that the hospitals provide access to health insurers and doctors. “Our sales and marketing efforts are directed primarily at physicians, who are principally responsible for referring our patients to our facilities,” the report says. Before joining United Surgical in 2004, Milla Perry Jones worked for a foundation supporting Dallas-based Baylor Health Care System, which invests in more United Surgical facilities than any other hospital.
In 2010, a doctor-owned hospital in Tyler, Texas and a national trade group that Perry’s sister works with filed a lawsuit alleging that Obamacare restrictions on doctor-owned hospitals are an unconstitutional taking of private property. Rejecting this claim, a federal judge appointed by George W. Bush ruled in 2011 that “it is not the function of the Court to determine the wisdom of congressional action.” Three judges on the New Orleans-based U.S. Firth Circuit then threw out the lawsuit on appeal. They ruled in August that the plaintiffs must exhaust their administrative appeals to U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius before they go to court.
Unlike Obama, Governor Perry avidly promotes the doctor-owned industry. In 2009 Congress considered restricting doctor-owned hospitals to pay for children’s health insurance. This prompted the governor of the state that leads the nation in doctor-owned hospitals and uninsured people to write Texas’ congressional delegation. Doctor-owned facilities “play a vital role in health care delivery in the state,” Perry wrote, “a role that is rightfully determined by the needs of Texas communities.” Perry spokesman Josh Havens wrote in response to Observer inquiries that the governor “believes that a patient should have options when addressing their health care needs and, respecting free-enterprise, he supports physician-owned hospitals as one of those options.”
Of course he does. Nonsequiteuse correctly compared this to the HPV vaccine executive order of 2007, which also stood to greatly benefit a Friend of Perry, in that case his former chief of staff Mike Toomey. Principles, such as he has them, will always take a back seat to helping a crony. The only surprise here is that it’s taken this long for someone to make the connection.