Lessons From a Highflyer

Lance Poulsen's lawyer would like everyone to know that his client has done nothing improper or illegal. Meanwhile, the company Poulsen founded and led until recently — National Century Financial Enterprises — operates under bankruptcy court protection.

Seems that Poulsen scoped out a niche industry in the 1990s. He heard the cries of hospitals and physician groups that said that third-party payers often took too long to pony up.

“Unable to wait weeks or months for insurance companies to pay claims, 60 ailing companies relied on cash from National Century to run their medical offices and facilities,” USA Today reports.

That story focuses mostly on Poulsen, and contains a number of lessons.

Lesson 1: Background reviews are worth making. In 1984, Poulsen had been jailed for passing bad checks. In 1992, the IRS had hit him with a lien for $49,000 in back taxes. In the check-writing instance, the case was dismissed when he agreed to pay back victims. Within two years of the lien, he had also paid back the IRS. Some might consider these to be innocuous endings to bumps along a businessman's road. Some might consider them good reasons for not doing business with Poulsen. All should have been aware.

Lesson 2: Don't be intimidated. Poulsen, apparently, often won through intimidation. Michael McGee — a shareholder at PhyAmerica, a medical services company, had asked some skeptical questions about financing — and, as a result, had been on the receiving end of Poulsen's tactics. McGee sued, settling last year for $4 million. “I wasn't going to sit by and let this happen to me or other investors.”

Lesson 3: Thank goodness for whistle-blowers. Seems as though anonymous letters sent to bond-rating agencies last year helped to build the case against Poulsen.

Lesson 4: This must have been so obvious that no one bothered to spell it out to the managed care industry back in the beginning: Do the right thing –in this case, pay people on time. If health plans had just done that, then Lance Poulsen, who did nothing illegal or improper according to his lawyer, would have missed his opportunity, and a lot of other people would be better off today.

MANAGED CARE January 2003. ©MediMedia USA