Not satisfied that a federal judge has determined the White House misled the court about the nature of President Clinton's 1993 healthcare reform task force, congressional Republicans want to make sure somebody besides U.S. taxpayers pays a legal sanction of nearly $286,000.
Four years after congressional opposition torpedoed the healthcare reform plan the task force produced, Rep. Bill Archer (R-Texas), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, wants Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-Texas) to schedule a House vote to block Clinton from using tax dollars to pay the penalty.
"It's wrong to punish the taxpayers for the White House's dishonesty," Archer wrote.
Ways and Means colleague J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) suggested that the private-sector representatives on the task force "voluntarily and privately" raise the money to pay the fine.
The sanction largely will be used to pay the lawyers for the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which sued task force leaders Hillary Rodham Clinton and Ira Magaziner for keeping the task force deliberations secret.
The AAPS and its allies, meanwhile, aren't resting in hounding the White House. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), the leader of the small congressional caucus aiming to impeach Clinton, is asking Attorney General Janet Reno to appoint a special counsel "outside the Justice Department" to look into the conduct of top Clinton administration officials regarding the task force.
As bad as it gets. The new Jack Nicholson flick "As Good As It Gets" is the managed-care industry's worst nightmare.
As if it's not bad enough that one of the story's main characters attacks HMOs, now it is being used by a likely presidential candidate as an example of why managed care needs to be regulated by the federal government.
The movie reflects the healthcare industry in popular culture. It relies on the peculiarities of the system to make the plot go and to push the three main characters together.
Nicholson plays an obnoxious romance novelist who knows he's sick but won't see his psychiatrist or take his pills. Greg Kinnear plays a painter who gets assaulted. He is bankrupted by his hospital bills and is forced to move in with Nicholson. Helen Hunt plays a hard-working waitress whose son suffers from asthma and runs in and out of the emergency room at a frantic clip.
But Hunt and her son are in an HMO, and she accuses it of holding back the treatment her son needs.
Hunt's attack on managed care is a scene-stealer. One HMO lobbyist who saw the movie says the audience cheered wildly when Hunt ranted against the HMO. Another said that several audience members actually stood and cheered. "I just wanted to crawl away," the lobbyist says.
At a White House ceremony last week, likely presidential candidate Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) cited Hunt's character's case as an example of why Congress should pass managed-care regulation.
The real irony of the movie is that asthma care is one of the things HMOs do best. It is also likely that Hunt's character would not have private health insurance at all. Most restaurants don't offer health insurance to their staffs. Students of health reform may remember that it was the National Restaurant Association that fought most intensely to kill President Clinton's reform plan.
For some, relief. Five executives from Paracelsus Healthcare Corp. in Houston are counting their blessings after a chartered jet they planned to board Jan. 13 crashed en route to pick them up at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
The executives were set to fly to Fargo, N.D., where they planned a routine visit of the company's Dakota Heartland Health System. "We knew there might be something amiss when the tower called the charter services and asked about the plane," says one of the scheduled passengers, Mike Carrico, Paracelsus' vice president of management information services.
Carrico and Warren Wilke, Paracelsus' senior vice president of operations, have pilot's licenses and felt a bit uneasy when the plane couldn't be seen.
The Learjet 25B was making a short trip across Houston from the city's Hobby Airport in foggy weather when it crashed some two miles short of the Bush runway in a wooded area. Both the pilot and co-pilot were pronounced dead at the scene. The cause of the crash isn't known yet.
"It really makes you pause and reflect," Carrico says. "Everybody's sympathies go out to (the pilots') families. We knew both (of the victims). They were very experienced and seemed to be really sharp people."
In addition to Carrico and Wilke, the Paracelsus executives set to fly were Michael Brooks, senior vice president of development; Ron Watson, senior vice president of operations and finance; and Randy Stone, vice president of human resources.
Alternative boycott. We've heard of bus boycotts, grape boycotts and lettuce boycotts, but the Chinese patent medicine boycott was news to us.
For the American Association of Oriental Medicine, it's a banner headline. It seems acupuncturists and herbalists import many of their products from China, birthplace of traditional or, as we in the West put it, "alternative" medicine. The medicinal herbs may contain high levels of heavy metals, a byproduct of China's horrible air and water pollution problems, according to some recent research. The country has no equivalent of our Food and Drug Administration watching over its manufacturing.
"While we know of no cases of heavy metal toxicity resulting from heavy metal contained in these patent medicines, the association believes it is logical and ethical to call for a boycott of these products and to institute a call from the profession for broad-based testing for such contaminants by herbal manufacturers and suppliers," says Claudette Baker, president of the Catasauqua, Pa.-based AAOM.
The association, which has 1,200 licensed practitioners in its membership, is using the boycott "as a sort of pre-emptive strike" to avoid having the products fall under U.S. Department of Agriculture regulation, says David Moloney, its executive director.
Quotable. "I feel sorry for doctors. They're all clinically depressed. After all those years of education, they realize they made the wrong career choice as undergraduates. Now they wish they'd gone into investment banking." -- J. Ian Morrison, healthcare consultant.