He was Dr. Rumack in "Airplane" and Lt. Frank Drebin in "Naked Gun." Now Leslie Nielsen is starring as Medicare's pitchman.
Nielsen is the chief spokesman in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' $30 million advertising campaign telling seniors how to find out what HMO options are available in their areas. The campaign urges seniors to call 1-800-MEDICARE to learn more.
The campaign, set to premiere last week, was necessitated by the CMS' decision to delay to September from July the date by which Medicare HMOs had to submit their benefit and premium proposals for 2002, a move that sought to reduce the number of plan withdrawals. That delay made it impossible for the CMS to do what it does every year: send out information booklets listing plans that seniors can join.
In response, the CMS planned the ad campaign and is beefing up staffing at the toll-free number so operators can take calls round the clock.
Although seniors' health coverage is no laughing matter, the advertisements apparently are. In one ad, 75-year-old Nielsen, clad in a hospital gown, commits a series of pratfalls in a doctor's examination room and stumbles into the waiting room-back first. In another, he trails the cord from his telephone headset through a Medicare call center, with much comic carnage.
CMS officials estimate that seniors will see the commercials an average of 30 times in the next two months.
Not-so-bitter medicine. Protecting yourself from the threat of anthrax doesn't have to be distasteful.
Washington-based Flavorx, which markets more than 40 flavors that can be safely added to medications, is offering to provide its products free to state health officials nationwide to be used with liquid antibiotics. The offer came in response to a request from the Georgia Department of Public Health to make it easier for children to take anthrax antibiotics, the company said in a news release. It's just another way "to take the yuck out of medicine," according to the company.
A serious scam. Hospitals from at least three states have been scammed by a new variation on an old telephone con game. Callers posing as physicians have asked switchboard operators at hospitals in Ohio, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania to connect them with outside lines. The con artists have racked up thousands of dollars in long-distance charges for calls to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Yemen charged to the hospitals.
Hospitals have been instructed to report illicit calls to the same FBI hot line advertised to report terrorist-related information since the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. Sources confirmed that the FBI is investigating unspecified terrorist connections.
Ohio Hospital Association counsel Rick Sites says 108-bed Galion (Ohio) Community Hospital was victimized five times in one night. "The FBI is apparently investigating and has already identified some people who may be involved with these calls," Sites says.
Galion Community President Lyndon Christman says the calls to Pakistan and Sri Lanka came on a single Friday overnight shift and cost the hospital $2,500. "The caller identified himself as a doctor . . . and asked the operator for an outside line. Once they get that, they can call anyone in the world." Roger Baumgarten, a spokesman for the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, says at least two of his member hospitals-142-bed Community Hospital of Lancaster and 255-bed Monongahela (Pa.) Valley Hospital-received about 15 calls from people claiming to be staff.
"These could be run-of-the-mill scams that periodically target hospitals, or they could be something more," Baumgarten says. "We have no way of knowing with the limited information we have. Under the circumstances, we're treating them a little more seriously than before."
Ovaries saved in cancer patients. In a procedure that verges on science fiction, parts of ovaries taken from two patients at New York Methodist Hospital were implanted in the patients' arms and continued to function there, raising hopes that women who are receiving treatment for cancer can avoid the loss of fertility that often accompanies such procedures.
In both cases, the tissue produced clearly visible, welt-sized lumps-mini-ovaries-on the forearm, just below the elbow, according to last month's Journal of the American Medical Association. Remarkably, the mini-ovaries produced eggs and continued to regulate the patients' menstrual cycles.
Researchers say the unconventional procedure could potentially benefit 40,000 to 50,000 U.S. women who each year are diagnosed with cancer during their reproductive years. The ovaries could be removed before radiation or chemotherapy begins, then implanted in the arm-away from harmful toxins. After treatment, the eggs could be retrieved using a syringe, much like drawing blood, and then fertilized.