Mr. Gonzalez is blessed with the gift of good timing. Back in the late 1990s, after graduating from law school at Indiana University, he and a few business associates started a dot-com company called Brick Mountain LLC. They sold the company to Jupiter Media in 2000, just before the crash of the dot-com industry.
After this triumph, Mr. Gonzalez decided to try his hand at the healthcare industry. At the time, though, his goal was modest: to focus on senior assisted living centers.
In 2003, he built one in Lake Charles, La. Not long after, the small hospital in the same rural area found itself on the brink of insolvency, and Mr. Gonzalez was presented with an opportunity to take over the company. He accepted. That same year, the hospital was wiped out by Hurricane Rita. Using FEMA money, he rebuilt. Three years later, it was destroyed again by Hurricane Ike, and he rebuilt again.
Today, his company runs four hospitals, along with several family medical centers and rural clinics. Mr. Gonzalez said hospitals in rural areas often fail because they have so few patients. These hospitals are often better served by belonging to a larger entity, so losses from one can be offset by surpluses from another, he said.
With those hospitals owned by Pacer Health, "there are more legs to hold up the table," he said. On healthcare reform, Mr. Gonzalez said he believes trying to reinvent the wheel is counterproductive. He would prefer an approach that strives to preserve what works, and patch up what doesn't. One area in need of a patch-up, he said, is how physicians currently have scant incentive to offer preventative care.
"If you have an emergency surgery, that surgeon gets reimbursed at a high level, while if you go to a doctor for a six-month checkup, that doctor might get $35," he said. "If they were reimbursed $100 or $200 (for a checkup), there might be more incentive to get their patients through the door."
Mr. Gonzalez added that the current system is already so complex that revolutionizing it might only make matters worse.
"I'm not saying the system is perfect, but I also don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water," he said. "Despite what the media says, if I have to be sick anywhere in the world, I want to be sick in America."
Growth of Sector
At a time when countless companies in the automotive, retail, and manufacturing industries endured crippling financial blows, the healthcare sector not only survived, but in many cases it also thrived.
In 2008 alone, when revenues for the Hispanic-owned companies in the real estate sector dropped by a third, the combined revenues for the nation's 10 largest Hispanic-run enterprises in the healthcare sector surged by 22 percent, according to HispanTelligence, the research arm of HispanicBusiness Magazine.
Part of the growth can be attributed to the downturn of the U.S. economy.
As more people lose their jobs, they become eligible for Medicaid, the state- and federally funded provider of health insurance for the poor.
Meanwhile, runaway healthcare costs are putting the squeeze on small businesses, squelching their ability to offer health benefits to their employees and, in some cases, leading to layoffs. Since the early 1990s, a third of all small businesses have been forced to drop the coverage offered to their workers, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Hispanic-owned businesses are particularly vulnerable, as the vast majority of them employ fewer than 10 employees.
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