Thursday, November 8, 2007

Carlyle Founder Challenges SEIU

Carlyle Group founder, David Rubenstein said the Service Employees International Union is more interested in growing union members than improving patient care. David should know as American businesses and unions have strategized to do just that. Here's the plan. Employers dump their health insurance to the individual employee who then needs a huge group purchaser to get competitive insurance bids. In comes the union.

One only need look at the last round of automotive contract negotiations which put in place such a structure. With all those billions in premiums, what will unions do? Might they self insure and invest the reserves with a firm like Carlyle? Andy Stern, SEIU President already called employer health insurance dead, history, going and not coming back. One might expect the head of a union of health care workers to be the last to capitulate, but no, unions see more members and more money.

Given their long term alignment on one issue, why the current contention over ManorCare? The SEIU claims to be concerned about patient care and they're absolutely correct. If there is a limited pool of money to care for our nation's institutionalized elderly, then a chunk of it will be diverted to cover huge increases in interest costs. That's clear for anyone with a modicum of financial acumen to project.

What's not being talked about is Carlyle's failure to care for patients in another health care division, LifeCare Hospitals. After Hurricane Katrina 24 patients died on the LifeCare unit in Memorial Hospital. One can mark that up to bad timing as Carlyle purchased the long term acute care chain just weeks before landfall. However, that doesn't explain why Carlyle's defense focused on turning a caring doctor who didn't abandon patients into a Joseph Hazelwood.

It also doesn't shed any light on the private equity underwriter's (PEU's) innovative defense of blaming the federal government. Carlyle has the audacity to claim patients became "wards of the government" as soon as FEMA set up evacuation teams in the New Orleans area. They blame the same feds who were kind enough to give the PEU a free pass in their White House Lessons Learned report.

This all speaks more to Carlyle's ability to stand up and do the right thing in a disaster. Their manipulating the aftermath of their Katrina failings shows the firm cannot be trusted to come clean, admit mistakes and make things right to those harmed. Do you want your grandmother or mother cared for by such a firm? That has much more resonance amongst the American public than interest expense or union membership, yet it gets zero play.

Of course I submitted my patient safety concerns to the Justice Department's Anti-Trust division as soon as the merger was announced. No response. I also contacted the Federal Trade Commission. No response, other than an e-mail confirmation. So what kind of review is the government doing if they don't contact people with unique information and legitimate concerns? The founder spoke to the regulatory approval process in his comments:

David Rubenstein said on the sidelines of the conference that the Manor Care transaction is on track to close in the fourth quarter. There are a couple of regulatory approvals that are in the process of being obtained," Rubenstein told Reuters. "The deal will close in the near future, in my view."

While Carlyle's founder spoke at The Deal's 2008 M&A Outlook conference in New York, Carlye's media guru Norman Pearlstein was the keynote at the Media and Money conference in that same Big Apple. Norm is charged with keeping Carlyle's good name and results to date are most impressive. Welcome to media and government heavily influenced, if not controlled by private equity. Why did George Bush veto the Water Bill? Rep. Mike Conaway said "I'm hard pressed to figure out why the President vetoed the bill." Could it have anything to do with Carlyle's just announced Infrastructure Fund, specializing in water and waste water facilities?