A family physician who runs a humor magazine for doctors got into hot water over an item poking fun at HMOs.
In the latest edition of his Placebo Journal, Douglas Farrago, M.D., wrote in an editorial that he had been warned to "cease and desist" following publication of the parody of a physician satisfaction survey by a fictitious HMO called "SICKNA Healthcare."
The mock survey using a logo similar to the one used by Philadelphia-based Cigna was signed by "W.E. Sucque" from the "Medical Thievery and Health Policy Division."
Shortly after the item was published, Farrago said his employer, Sisters of Charity Health System alerted him that Cigna Healthcare's lawyers had called and inquired about getting Farrago to "cease and desist."
The lawyers said Cigna's agreement with Sisters of Charity, owner of St. Mary's Regional Medical Center, bars physicians from "any false or disparaging communications which would, or are likely to, interfere with or otherwise damage any of Cigna's existing or potential contractual relationships."
Lindsay Shearer, a Cigna spokeswoman in Hooksett, N.H., said Friday the item likely offended Cigna employees who "work very hard to provide very high quality service to our members, our clients, our providers."
But she said there has been no formal cease-and-desist letter, and she even conceded some material in the Placebo Journal is "hilarious."
Farrago, who launched the humor magazine in 2001, said parody is a legally protected form of free speech. The item was targeted at all HMOs, not just Cigna, he said. "If my hospital, who has allowed me the freedom to be creative, gets bullied to fire me over this then it proves that HMOs are really running our healthcare system," Farrago wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press.