Is new HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt bent on bending the rules of the health insurance industry, or is he just another tightwad?
Leavitt intrigued his audience at a recent American Medical Association conference in Washington with his response to a question about getting a grip on the rising costs created by "middlemen" in healthcare. He smiled and replied, "I've got a story to tell."
Leavitt explained to those in attendance that he uses a "medical device" at night in his home and that he really wanted to get a second device to take on the road for those long nights in strange hotels. He didn't say what the device was, surely making the doctors in attendance curious.
They were given a juicy hint when Leavitt said his unnamed health insurance company told him that the device costs $985. His portion of the purchase would be about $180. "Not bad," he figured. When he told his insurance provider that he wanted a second device, they told him he would be out of pocket for the full cost.
So Leavitt claimed he did what anyone with an ounce of computer savvy and an inch of economic frugality would do: He got on the Web.
"I found the exact same device, same exact model," he told AMA members. The price tag? "About $380."
Ever the thoughtful consumer, Leavitt said he dialed his insurance company and "I told them that I was going to save them a load of money." But the representative from the insurance company dismissed the advice, saying "that's not how we do business," said Leavitt, quoting the rep.
Leavitt described the incident as a perfect example of why the costs of medical care continue to skyrocket.
To applause, Leavitt then announced that he has dropped his insurer.
Leavitt later told the press the device is for a sleeping disorder. Considering the crisis in Medicaid and Medicare he just inherited, we're not surprised.
Accusations of medical malpractice in our litigious society run the gamut of healthcare activities, but until the case against Delnor-Community Hospital in Geneva, Ill., and a psychologist who had worked there, witchcraft hasn't been among them.
Plaintiff Shelley Standau has sued Delnor for $2 million in federal court, alleging that psychologist Letitia Libman performed a number of witchcraft-related acts, resulting in wrongful conduct and negligence. The lawsuit includes allegations that Libman administered witchcraft under the guise of therapy, informed Standau of her sexual relationship with a Delnor doctor and how she had drugged the doctor with an alleged love potion, and "vividly described witch covenant circle meetings, including detailing sexual orgies (that) occurred at the end of each meeting."
Libman blasts the lawsuit, calling it "slanderous bull--. "I don't bring any religion in to practice. It doesn't belong there," she says, denying that she practices witchcraft. She declines for reasons of patient confidentiality to discuss why Standau might be suing her.
Libman also resents Delnor's implication that the allegations are true. Delnor issued a statement from Craig Livermore, president and chief executive officer, which says it conducted an internal investigation of Libman after a patient complaint and contacted the Illinois Department of Regulation. A spokesman declined comment beyond what's in the statement. Her psychologist license was in good standing as of March 23, according to the department's Web site, which says it is updated daily.
Of both Standau and Delnor Libman says: "Shame on you."
Standau's attorney, Richard Lee Stavins, says he has an explanation for why Libman denied the suit's accusations. "She's a wonderful actress," Stavins says.
Standau moved to North Carolina to get away from Libman, Stavins says. "She's in hiding."
It seems California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger either missed the controversy that recently erupted around the White House's aggressive use of mock TV news reports to promote its public policy agenda or forgot he's no longer in Hollywood. In February, California's Labor and Workforce Development Agency released a video news release that mimics broadcast news reports (it even included a "suggested anchor lead.")
Now the $1,262 video-paid for with state tax dollars-has landed California's health and labor secretaries in court. The California Nurses Association and the Service Employees International Union's United Healthcare Workers-West local have filed a lawsuit to force the Schwarzenegger administration to repay tax dollars used for video news releases, stop further production of the videos and disclose any other such releases the administration produced.
Earlier this month California's bipartisan legislative counsel said the video was promotional, rather than informational, and therefore a misuse of public funds.
"I firmly believe we are on solid legal footing," says Rick Rice, undersecretary of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency, who is among the California officials named in the suit. "We have a need and an obligation to inform the public of what their government is doing. Not doing so would constitute covertness."
Nicole Kasabian Evans, assistant secretary for external affairs at the California Department of Health and Human Services, echoed Rice's comments.
Chuck Idelson disagrees. "It's illegal," says the CNA spokesman. "It's part of an ongoing attack by this administration to undermine democratic institutions, in this case, by trying to manipulate the media."
Calls to Schwarzenegger's office for comment weren't returned at deadline.