Sister Act: Gov. Perry’s Little-Known Sister is a Lobbyist for Lucrative Doctor-Owned Hospitals

by Published on
PHOTO BY BEST IN PLASTICS/FLICKR

The glaring media scrutiny that helped derail Rick Perry’s presidential campaign never revealed that the governor’s older sister is a lobbyist embroiled in a national health-care debate. Milla Perry Jones is vice president of government relations at United Surgical Partners International, an Addison, Texas company that runs hospitals and surgery centers co-owned by doctors. Sister Jones works with trade groups to rebut claims that doctor-owned medical facilities inflate American medical bills. 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.

The doctor-owned debate escalated in 2009, when the New Yorker published an article about McAllen by Boston surgeon Atul Gawande. Although McAllen trails the nation in household income, Dr. Gawande noted that its Medicaid patients are almost twice as expensive as the national average. According to government data, Gawande wrote, Medicaid patients upriver in El Paso receive better care at half the cost than they do in McAllen. Gawande argued that McAllen’s medical system “has no brakes,” a failing that he blamed on physicians referring patients to hospitals in which they own interests. Gawande singled out the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, which wields influence far beyond the Rio Grande Valley.

President Obama gave Gawande’s article to a group of senators in the run up to his signature 2010 health reform. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden told The New York Times that Obama told lawmakers, “This is what we’ve got to fix.” A provision in Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act generally bans construction of new doctor-owned hospitals, while barring existing ones from expanding. (President Bush similarly imposed an 18-month moratorium on new specialty hospitals as part of the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug law).

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.”

If Rick Perry has the back of doctor-owned facilities, they literally have his. Last year Houston surgeon Stanley Jones co-founded Celltex Therapeutics Corp. to perform highly experimental back surgeries. Suffering chronic back pain, the governor volunteered to be that doctor-owned venture’s first guinea pig. Dr. Jones injected stem cells harvested from a gubernatorial thigh into Perry’s blood and spine shortly before the governor formally announced his intent to be president.

For better or worse, doctor-owned facilities are money machines. A 2009 study found that Texas’ doctor-owned hospitals pumped $2.3 billion into the economy each year. The industry has had to use some of this money to fend off political meddling. Heavily favoring Republicans, Perry Jones’ United Surgical PAC spent almost $250,000 on federal politicians from 2005 to 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The New York Times reported that Doctors Hospital at Renaissance donors gave congressional Democrats $1.3 million in that period, with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visiting that hospital in 2007. Surpassing the powerful Texas Medical Association, the Doctors Hospital’s Border Health PAC spent close to $4 million on Texas state elections from 2005 through 2010, becoming Texas’ 13th largest PAC. Houston’s doctor-owned North Cypress Medical Center pumped another $500,000 into Texas state races, ranking as Governor Perry’s No. 5 donor in 2010.

In one of his last presidential ads, Rick Perry skewered Washington as a twisted place where, “You can’t say that Congressmen becoming lobbyists is a form of political corruption.” United Surgical, North Cypress and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance have paid federal lobbyists—including ex-Congressman Tom Loeffler—almost $3 million since 2005. Joined by two Perry Jones-affiliated trade groups, these same doctor-owned interests paid 24 Texas lobbyists—including U.S. Senator John Cornyn’s daughter—up to $3.4 million in that period. These lobbyists do not include Milla Perry Jones, whose advocacy activities may not trigger Texas’ registration requirements. (A Texas lobbyist generally must register if she receives more than $1,000 a quarter for direct communications with public officials).

Even as they wrestle with spiraling Medicare and Medicaid costs, Governor Perry and Texas lawmakers have embraced the doctor-owned industry. During the first legislative year in which his sister represented the industry, Governor Perry signed a 2005 bill requiring doctors to disclose certain kinds of investment interests to patients. The industry did not openly oppose that disclosure law. That year it was more concerned with killing 11 Texas bills that would have restricted physician ownership. Milla Perry Jones can take a measure of pride. On her eight-year watch, no bill to curtail doctor-owned facilities ever has reached her brother’s desk.

  • 10thGroup

    What I can tell you is that Mila Perry Jones is a pain in the ass to work with….reeks of arrogance.

    • Michael Siever

      It must run in the family, then.

  • radsenior

    Here’s the best part – Doctor-owned facilities are hidden behind lawyers and accountants with experience in use of the legal system to hide monies and facilities for the betterment and improved money flow. These are time-honored manipulations of the system in localities, states and at the national level which has benefited only the well-connected and well-heeled. just look at Perry’s sister – She has a plush job paying well just other Perry benefactors and donators. It’s playing and abusing the system. These smaller, doctor-owned facilities are much more expensive and generate huge profit motives for physicians in local communities. States like Texas with power hungry career politicians are fodder for corruption and abuse of the system. Rick Perry has totally out-stayed his welcome and his double-dipping in the states compensation funds show his real desire and wants. Perry has become a millionaire on state compensation. Texas must make drastic changes to fix our broken state soon. Bear in mind it will take a concerted effort to bring women, blacks, Hispanics/Latinos and other oppressed people of color to the voting booth to clean out the combative and divisive elements in every locality, state and nationally. Get registered and get even – Vote- get out the vote! Repeat often every election cycle! Let’s take Texas BLUE! The 2014 Mid-term is a-coming! As is 2016, and 2018! V.O.T.E.(Vote Out The Encumberance)

    • YellowDog

      Yes… PLEASE VOTE!

    • kwilson

      And lo and behold, Governor Goodhair’s latest efforts have made becoming an ambulatory clinic a mandate for abortion services….even (and especially) those services which DO NOT INVOLVE SURGERY….. The latest Texas abortion bill funnels money directly into Milla Perry’s pocket.
      In’t that spayshul????

  • DaveD

    Doctors should not own medical facilities. Chefs should not own restaurants. Musicians should not own record companies. Lawyers should not own law firms. Let’s let the politicians own everything.

    • Eris de Suzerain

      Hardly equal comparisons. You trust a doctor (or should be able to trust a doctor) with your life and follow their recommendations for procedures and surgeries that may be necessary to save your life or protect your health. If they are making larger sums by getting you to invest in procedures (due to their owner stake in the hospital) the fear is that they will recommend procedures you do not need to get more money out of you or your insurance rather than putting your health needs first.

      You can say no to a dish, you can decide not to buy a CD/MP3 – but your doctor you are supposed to be able to trust to only recommend what you need, and you do not have the education to determine that they are right or wrong if you are a layperson.

      • Alexis Betancourt

        the answer may be in 2nd and 3rd opinions to evaluate if you need a procedure.

        • Wayne Young

          2nd and 3rd opinions still cost money…

          • Rhonda Painter

            Well, yes, and they take turns doing second opinions for each other.

      • patriott

        ALL of the above issue will be solved when we go to single-payer healthcare.

    • Ann Tucker

      Good one ! Surrounded by liberals .

      • Marty Holden

        Snarky and off point Dave. what’s a matter, you detect the listing of the ship?

        • YellowDog

          listing to the port side!

  • Michael Varian Daly

    Like Deep Throat said, “Follow the money.”

    • menloman

      You realize that you’re quoting a movie script not Woodward and Bernstein?
      http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/09/23/follow-the-money/

      • Michael Varian Daly

        It applies nonetheless. And it is what Woodward and Bernstein actually did.

        • menloman

          Great. Here’s another qote from the movie, “Scott, Foreign Editor: Look, there are two thousand reporters in this town, are there five on Watergate? When did the Washington Post suddenly get the monopoly on wisdom? Why would the Republicans do it? McGovern’s self-destructed just like Humphrey, Muskie, the bunch of them. I don’t believe this story. It doesn’t make sense.”

  • Dawn Anderson

    In all honesty its better then having Churches own hospitals.

  • firefly616

    My greatest hope is that Texas votes Perry OUT of office. We need an honest Governor who does what’s best for all the citizens of the state.

    • MC

      problem is, when you remove one corrupt politician from office, there’s another to take it-left or right, blue or red, there’s no such thing as an honest politician because politics is a dirty game, and good guys or gals won’t survive!

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joan-Belanger-Boudreaux/1475636975 Joan Belanger Boudreaux

        Maybe if we had the death penalty for corruption we could get rid of it. or…. get the money out of politics. http://getmoneyout.com/

      • YellowDog

        The old “they are all the same” scam. One side wants available healthcare, a living wage and a clean environment.

        VOTE DEMOCRAT.

        • MC

          You mean the same side that wants earning taxpayers to pay for lazy mofos? Or the ones that want you to pay a tax for not having healthcare insurance because you can’t afford it, or you’re unemployed? Yeah vote Democrats my a55

          • patriott

            Lazy Mofos? Like all those rich mofos that want tax cuts and don’t work?

          • MC

            No, they pay for their own stuff-they can be lazy all they want. If you’re broke, refuse to work and expect hard working tax paying people to pay your way, then you’re a lazy mofo. You understand the difference @disqus_eSYylODIAg:disqus ?

          • patriott

            You’re making my point for me!

            If they can buy all their own stuff WHY do they get so much MORE in tax cuts than poor working folks?? Since they already have sooo much that they can take care of themselves, WHY do YOU feel the constant need to give them MORE government money??

            Is your main complaint that you don’t want to give government support to lazy non-working people? Or are you only proposing punishing people because they’re poor, and therefore [in your eyes] undeserving? While giving much more $$ to non-working, lazy, incompetent rich folks?

          • MC

            I’m not making anything for you. I’m not for tax cuts for the rich, just against handouts for the lazy-there’s a difference. I don’t think we should hand out money to people smoking pot and driving cadillac’s to collect their welfare check. Yes, I think the rich should pay their fair share of taxes and yes, I think lazy bums should starve-might motivate them to work and contribute to society. I’ve seen single moms working 2 or 3 jobs to raise her kids-why the hell should some lazy bum get a handout? If we were handing out money, maybe we should give to that hard working single mom or the injured veteran who sacrificed his/her limbs for this country. My objection is to handing money to lazy bums “mofos” and not rich or poor.

          • patriott

            ” I don’t think we should hand out money to people smoking pot and driving cadillac’s to collect their welfare check. ”

            Do you realize “tax cuts” for those lazy rich folks are AT LEAST ten times more than the welfare checks? I never heard of folks getting $500K welfare checks – have you? Caddys are a dime a dozen around here – just another worthless pile of crap from GM.

            Last I heard rich folks smoke pot too. And snort cocaine, and drive drunk too.

            I find it curious that some folks love lazy, good-for-nothing rich folks that inherited their money and never worked for a penny of it then absolutely hate folks that weren’t born rich. Are you rich yet? Got your first ten million?

          • MC

            Does the amount matter? The “rich” are contributing to taxes and the bums are not contributing anything. Sure, it pisses me off that billionaire’s pay less percentage in taxes, but at least they pay taxes, spend money and create jobs. Lazy bums are a burden on society. Caddy’s are a dime a dozen where you live-really? And if you can afford to do drugs, maintain and insure a caddy, why do you need a handout? sheesh. Whether the rich earned it or inherited it, it’s theirs. Maybe you should move to a socialist country and see how well spreading wealth works!! Last you heard rick folks smoke pot too? Guess what? They spend their own money, not the tax payers-I have nothing against people ruining their health-just don’t do it with my taxes. You’re missing all the key points-your argument is baseless. I’m not rich, I’m happy to work hard for a living and do what I want with my money. What about you? DO you collect welfare before or after smoking pot?

          • patriott

            I thought you said this was already a socialist country? And who said I had insurance on my caddy? Why would I want to waste money on insurance when I can buy drugs instead? YOU like wasting money on insurance?

            Why do you keep saying that I “do drugs” and “smoke pot”? Implying that you know ME?

            Are you also implying that “poor folks” don’t spend (“…but at least they pay taxes, spend money and create jobs…)? And where are the jobs these lazy, drug-taking, pot-smoking rich folks create? Maybe in China. certainly NOT in the USA. For example how many jobs has Paris Hilton created?

            I’m happy that you keep working so I can keep collecting my welfare checks. Thanks! Time for my nap.

    • kwilson

      Perry has announced that he won’t seek the Governor’s seat in 2014 – I’m guessing he’s going to open several Ambulatory Surgery Centers……and become a lobbyist.

  • Vicki Trusselli

    oh wow. not cool at all. turn texas blue…..perry out.

  • Carpeverde

    Referring to the 5th paragraph from the bottom, “…that the governor ‘believes that a patient should have options when addressing their health care needs…’”, This seems particularly laughable in the light of the current efforts to push SB1 in the current extended legislative session which, if passed, closes all but four or five abortion clinics in the state. So much for patients having their options.

    • sam

      he doesn’t want women to have options!

  • Lwayno

    FEAR NOT! MY BELOVED KOCH SUCCORS & TEE-BRAGGERS! THE ONLY THING WE HAvVE TO FEAR IS THE TRUTH! R. Perry, beloved Governator, R-Texas

  • Lwayno

    R. Perry’s highest grade at A&M was a C in animal breeding! We called him “THE STUMP-BREAKER”

    • patriott

      So is he breeding??

  • jkw

    Someone really needs to look at this relationship very closely for disclosure of all gifts and their activities. I truly believe Federal Laws have been violated. I hope there is an Federal investigation.

  • Cathy Creswell

    Posting this to Facebook

  • bkurtin

    This sleeping scandal is about to bite the Perry family on their collective behinds. It seems that Greg Abbott who was and remains the Attorney General of Texas knew that Perry’s sister, Milla, was helping her doctors to build their ambulatory clinics build clinics to the new parameters that would be in the new law. HOW DID SHE GET THAT INFORMATION BEFORE THE PUBLIC? And why has not Greg Abbott DONE ANYTHING ABOUT IT?
    Yeah, we know. Perry-Abbott–Jones.
    Senator Wendy Davis tried to stop the law from going into effect, but the powers that are, for now, just called another expensive special session and passed the law.
    They WILL pay for what they have done.
    Let’s face it, the people who oppose abortion do not give a damn about what happens once a fetus becomes an infant. If an infant is born into poverty, homelessness, hunger…they simply do not give a damn. Their day is coming and it is coming sooner than they think.