The latest buzz in the health-care industry has nothing to do with new drugs or medical treatments.
It's all about moviemaker Michael Moore and where he's lurking these days.
Some of the nation's biggest drug manufacturers and health insurance plans confirm they have issued warnings to their sales representatives and other employees in recent weeks, telling them to be on the lookout for the shaggy filmmaker in his trademark baseball cap. And, under no circumstances, are they to talk to Moore.
The industry's red alert was prompted by word that Moore plans to aim his camera lens at the health-care industry, much as he did with other targets, most recently President Bush in "Fahrenheit 9/11."
The planned movie, tentatively titled "Sicko," is expected to focus on health-care industry business practices, specifically those of the managed-care and pharmaceutical industries, which have both been mentioned in Moore's recent speeches and interviews, his spokesman said.
Health-care companies are hardly enthused.
But Moore's people seemed amused by the industry's call to arms, saying health-care companies obviously have reason to be concerned if they feel the need to put their employees on guard. Moore representatives say there isn't even a timetable for production to begin, and financing has yet to be finalized.
The business practices of HMOs and certain other health plan business practices that encourage low-cost medical care have long been criticized as short-changing patients.
Meanwhile, drug industry marketing practices have been a target of prosecutors and lawmakers who say they can lead to unnecessary prescriptions by doctors or to higher health-care costs.
The industry's gift-giving practices, intended to win physician loyalty to certain drugs, have been of particular concern in a climate of growing consumer outrage over drug costs, which have risen at an annual rate of 15 percent during each of the last four years, far exceeding inflation.
"We would welcome any public disclosure on the way this multibillion-dollar industry works," said Lynda DeLaforgue, co-director of consumer group Citizen Action Illinois. "They would certainly have reason to be concerned about any group looking into their business practices, looking into the amount of money that they use to influence the political and legislative process. These are obviously the typical things Mr. Moore delves into deeper."
If industry reports on Moore sightings are to be believed, the filmmaker himself is taking a page out of drugmakers' handbooks to do his movie by offering medical professionals payments for access to their offices.