VENTURA COUNTY: Noncompetitive Medical Contracts Raise Hackles
Ventura County doles out more than $22 million annually to renew its contracts with doctors who agree to serve the poor, earning the ire of critics who say the arrangements "amount to sweetheart deals," the Los Angeles Times reports. Although the county contracts were never considered plums, many physicians squeezed by managed care are turning to the county and even underbidding their counterparts, only to be turned away by a system they say is built on "personal relationships and perpetuated by habit." A Times analysis found that the county awarded 50 such contracts in excess of $50,000 each last year, nine worth more than $1 million and one approaching $2 million, with the top 50 contracts detailed in yesterday's paper. "The bottom line is that all physicians are not equal," said Dr. Samuel Edwards, administrator at the county hospital, who offers no apologies for the staffing strategy. He said that "you can't build a stable medical staff based on low bids." But that explanation does not sit well with some local physicians who want the chance to bid against the current contractors and get their foot in the door of the 120-doctor, 21-clinic county medical system, which was founded a century ago. One doctor who was rebuffed in his attempts to get "a piece of the action," said, "The whole system is based on close-knit associations. We feel that taxpayers are the losers, and we wonder what sort of oversight the Board of Supervisors is using in all of this" (Kelley, 5/16).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.