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Congress caused this crisis
(Published March 12, 2001)

A meddling, irresponsible and ignorant U.S. Congress is wholly responsible for creating the District of Columbia’s current crisis in public health care.

Members of Congress can — and should — eliminate the crisis just as quickly as they created the problem.

The only reason D.C. General Hospital, its satellite clinics and the public school nurse program are expected to run out of money within days is because Congress legislatively decreed that locally elected officials could not spend local taxpayers’ dollars to subsidize the Public Benefit Corp.’s operations.

The Public Benefit Corp. (PBC) is a quasi-public entity created by the D.C. Council five years ago to integrate the city’s public health-care delivery system. The PBC’s creation was largely intended to make D.C. General Hospital, which has operated in a long-neglected facility with a history of financial and management problems, competitive with private health care providers.

However, since its creation the PBC has been prevented by Congress and two undemocratic entities created by Congress — the financial control board and the chief financial officer — from operating independently as the city council’s legislation intended. As a result, the PBC — which operated with a budget surplus until saddled with the health department’s crumbling health clinics and given no dollars to fix them — has been forced to rely on the city’s treasury to keep operating.

If allowed to operate as intended, the PBC might very well be the vehicle to solve the problems in the city’s public health care system, which acts as a "safety net" for the poor and uninsured.

A unanimous city council on March 6 resolved that "a streamlined version of the current health care system, appropriately funded, could provide the necessary care at less than the cost of contracting for services." The mayor’s own health care commission, in its December report that the mayor failed to make public but which can be read online at, called for a strengthening of the PBC rather than its elimination.

The politicians, including Mayor Anthony Williams, repeatedly tell us that creating competition between public and private operations is a good thing. It’s the reason they use to justify much of the contracting-out of government operations.

So why won’t the mayor, the chief financial officer, the control board and the Congress let the PBC compete in the marketplace?


Gifts can be exchanged
(Published March 12, 2001)

NEWS ITEM: Philanthropist Betty Brown Casey offers a $100 million gift to the people of the District of Columbia — $50 million to restore and maintain the city’s trees and $50 million to build and maintain the "Casey Mansion" on Foxhall Road NW as an official residence for the city’s mayor.

D.C. residents all should be appreciative of Betty Brown Casey’s generosity and her desire to "give back" to her community, something that so many among us demand continuously of others who are not so forthcoming with their largesse.

Certainly, the state of our trees – from the stately elms that have been decimated by disease to the often less-appreciated ginkgoes that annually drop their fruit – cries out for Mrs. Casey’s offered help.

But we are puzzled as to why the District’s public officials seem to think that Mrs. Casey’s offer of a controversial mayoral mansion must be accepted simply because it is a gift.

Gifts that don’t fit can be exchanged.

Mrs. Casey has a history of directing her generosity toward health care, including multimillion dollar support in the past for Bethesda’s Suburban Hospital.

While D.C.’s mayor will never be without shelter or an appropriate venue to entertain dignitaries, the health care of thousands of D.C. residents is currently being jeopardized. Perhaps D.C. officials should suggest to Mrs. Casey that her $50 million offered for a mansion would be much more appreciated and better invested in helping the city build a new state-of-the-art public hospital to replace D.C. General that D.C. residents would gratefully be willing to memorialize as the Eugene B. Casey Medical Center.



Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator