Years ago my older boys attended a football camp in Annapolis Maryland.  Several of the parents went along, one, a man whose son would later play quarterback.  I enjoyed visiting with him and particularly enjoyed his quick and keen sense of humor.  We were at a restaurant overlooking the bay and admiring the private yachts that were moored close by.  There were lots of them.  Several were huge, with crews of 20 or more.  I asked my new friend “…seriously, what would you have to have in order to feel ok about owning one of those ships?”  “What would your balance sheet need to look like in order to sleep at night knowing that a ship like that was part of your daily expense?”  “What would you have to have?”

He said quickly, “Your own country!”

Maybe you had to be there but this was one of the funniest comebacks I had ever heard.  I think of this exchange when I drive by the latest “not for profit” temple under construction.  They are everywhere.  Then there’s this: Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City is part of the Sisters of Mercy in St. Louis…they spent 500 million on a new computer system.  I’ll spell it so you know it’s not a typo:  five hundred million dollars.

What would your balance sheet and checking account need to look like to feel comfortable spending 500 million on a new computer system?  Once you wrap your head around that question, ask the bigger one:  where did they get this money?  That they charge 5-10 times what we do for the same procedure as I’ve written many times before should give you some clue.  Their uncompensated care scam whereby they are paid by the government (you and me) even when they are not paid by the patient is another source of their loot. 

As you encounter the spawn of the big hospitals’ latest spending spree, remember that these temples aren’t even a drop in the bucket to these multi-billion dollar corporations, billions that come from $100 aspirins and $30 charges for paper towels in your hospital room.

Someone told me today that this same hospital system lost 300 million dollars in the stock market in 2008.  What does that say about the size of this company’s asset base to have lost 300 million in one year and not only stay in business, but announce a 4.2 billion spending campaign just three years later. Where did they get this money?  Or do you even want to know?

G. Keith Smith, M.D.