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"I was a boy that happened to love a game and got lucky, and the good Lord gave me a passion for it" -- Retired National Hockey League star Wayne GretzkyEDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

Code Blue for Small Hospitals?

MEDICARE CUTBACKS MAY SOON KILL OFF MANY OF THE NATION'S SMALL FOR-PROFIT HOSPITALS, the hospitals say. So they have begun a vigorous lobbying program, along with the American Medical Assn., to keep themselves off the critical list.

The Medicare budget is $213.6 billion in fiscal 1999, down from $231.1 billion last year. That cut is hurting hospital operations, says Thomas Scully, president of the Federation of American Health Systems. His organization represents 1,700 hospitals and treatment centers, most of them proprietary. A recent study by Ernst & Young and HCIA, a health care data supplier, says that by the end of fiscal 2001, projected hospital profit margins will fall to 3.6%, from 6.9% in fiscal 1998.

In the same period, margins on Medicare billings will fall to about 1%. Hospitals are also billing Medicare more conservatively since the recent scandals that have engulfed Columbia/HCA Healthcare. "Nobody wants to become the next Columbia," says Scully.

The hospitals face a battle to get Congress to restore at least $2 billion this year. That, they say, would be a small, but welcome, shot in the arm.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

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Lights! Camera! Contributions!

IT DIDN'T TAKE LONG FOR PRESIDENTIAL WANNABE AL GORE TO TAP HOLLYWOOD'S MONEY GUSHER. The mid-April campaign reports show a slew of entertainers who have given their autographs--on $1,000 checks--to the Veep. Kevin Costner, Jack Nicholson, Lily Tomlin, David Caruso, Ossie Davis, Dweezil Zappa, Suzanne Somers, Sheryl Crow, and Michael Douglas have all given Gore a grand, the legal limit on individual contributions.

Former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley, by comparison, seems positively celebrity-challenged. The only big names in his camp so far:

NBA legend Michael Jordan, movie director Barry Levinson, and Michael Douglas, who evidently is hedging his bets.

While the celebs favor Democrats, Hollywood's moguls are giving to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). He chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees telecom legislation. Paramount Stations Group President Anthony Cassara, VH1 President John Sykes, Viacom/Showtime Networks CEO Matthew Blank, and Sundance Channel Chief Operating Officer Larry Aidem have chipped in to McCain's campaign. Aside from McCain, though, LaLaLand apparently hasn't warmed to the GOP.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

Bombardier Zeroes in on Buffett

WARREN BUFFETT MAY BE ONE OF THE RICHEST MEN ON THE PLANET, but that's not deterring Bombardier Aerospace as it angles to grab a share of the lucrative business of fractional jet ownership, dominated by Buffett.

Arranging time-shares for executive jets is a booming business, thanks to a strong economy. So Bombardier, with 25% of the market, is launching an ambitious program to make its FlexJet program No. 1. It will expand its 65-plane fleet by 50% annually over the next six years. Buffett's NetJet, which he purchased last year, has 205 jets and a 50% market share. But Bombardier plans to move out front by concentrating on the basics: better service and newer planes. "We're half their size now," Vice-President Michael Reigel says. "But would you rather be doing business with a successful aerospace company or a successful investor?"

Bombardier may throw better parties, too. In late April, it asked 100 FlexJet share owners to a two-day bash in Pebble Beach, Calif., to figure out how to sell more time shares. One idea: more use of star client Fran Tarkenton, ex-Minnesota Vikings star. Two days at Pebble Beach for that?EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

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