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JIM HIGHTOWER Casualty of Aetna Time for the Hog Report! Today’s big snorters are HMOs the corporations that now control America’s medical system. That huge one there is Aetna U.S. Healthcare, which has been a leader in squeezing the “care” out of our health care system, pocketing prodigious profits by cutting back on the treatment it allows its doctors to provide for us patients. Aetna U.S. Healthcare also was a leader in the industry’s successful effort in Congress to kill the Patient’s Bill of Rights legislation that would have restored some power to us medical consumers when we confront the ruthless actions of HMO beancounters. Mr. Joseph Plocica could tell you about such HMO ruthlessness except that he’s dead. He was released from a psychiatric ward in Fort Worth, even though he was still severely depressed and medically unstable. After his release, Mr. Plocica drank a halfgallon of antifreeze and killed himself. His own psychiatrist had wanted him to stay in the hospital for another couple of weeks, but he was overruled by a doctor who had never even seen Mr. Plocica. This doctor worked in the bureaucratic system of Aetna U.S. Healthcare, Mr. Plocica’s HMO. He decreed that the HMO would not pay for another night of hospitalization, so Joseph Plocica was discharged into the dark night. patients and their families to sue HMOs for malpractice, and Mr. Plocica’s family has done so. Aetna U.S. Healthcare had gone to federal court to block the Texas law, but lost, so now it faces the nation’s first HMO malpractice case. A lawyer coldly gave the company line on Mr. Plocica’s treatment, maintaining that HMOs don’t decide whether a patient is dismissed from a hospital just whether that patient’s stay is paid for. Try explaining that distinction to Joseph Plocica. GINGRICH OF AKRON Two of the worst things in modern-day communications are telephone solicitations and political campaign pitches. But now, some marketing sadist has come up with the really bad idea of combining the two. The New York Times reports that small businesses across the country are getting calls saying that “Speaker Newt Gingrich’s office” is calling, wanting to discuss a “national lead ership award” with the business owner. A nice person from “the Speaker’s office” informs the lucky small business person that she or he has been named honorary chair of a select committee to advise Newt on legislation. This will involve filling out important issue questionnaires to help advise the Speaker, they are told, and Newt will be giving his “national leadership award” to you. Oh, and by the way, the Speaker also hopes that the new “Chair” of his legislative advisory committee will contribute $1,000 to “help our efforts.” It turns out that everyone on the committee gets named an honorary chair, gets the leadership award and gets hustled for a thousand bucks. The calls for this bait-and-switch telephone scam come not from Washington, but from a telemarketing outfit in Akron, Ohio. The Times reports that one fellow who returned “the Speaker’ s” call reached a perky lady named Nancy. “Is this Congressman Gingrich’s office that I’m talking to?” he asked. “This is the Speaker’s office,” says Nancy. “That I’m talking to,” asked the wary caller once more. “Uhhuh,” Nancy assured him. Republican operatives who are pushing this money-raising flim-flam sound a lot like Bill Clinton when they’re pushed to explain how Newt’s office got moved to Akron, Ohio. It’s a matter of how you define “office,” they say, conceding that the calls are not related to “the Speaker’s official office.” Deceit seems to be a bipartisan disease in Washington, D.C. BRIBERY, AMERICAN STYLE Thank God for Bill Moyers. While the media establishment has been riveted on the White House sex scandal, Moyers recently broadcast a dynamite PBS documentary called “Washington’s Other Scandal.” Produced by the fine, populist filmmaker Sherry Jones, this TV special shows political leaders of both parties openly whoring for campaign dollars. For example, Moyers and Jones had tapes of some of those infamous coffees held by Bill Clinton. At one, a developer named Ruben Velez was caught on tape trying to hand an envelope full of checks to Don Fowler, then the Democratic Party chairman. Velez needed White House help to get a deal done. Fowler did not accept the money there, but arranged to do it after the event. Here’s the quick exchange between the two: Velez: “I have five checks here for you.” Fowler: “As soon as this thing is over, I’ll call you and we’ll get it done.” Moyers probed Fowler on the significance of his exchange with Velez: Moyers: “If Ruben Velez had been a shopkeeper from San Juan, would he have been at that coffee?” Fowler: “If he’d have been a shopkeeper, probably no.” Moyers: “People with money should not be able to buy more democracy than people without money.” Fowler: “But they do, and we all know it.” “Washington’s Other Scandal” also showed Republican leader Trent Lott selling out our democracy to his Fat Cat contributors. Each had given $100,000 or more to spend three days meeting privately with Lou and other key GOP leaders, discussing legislative favors. Asked if the contributors should be allowed to keep buying legislative access, Lott said: “I think for them to have the opportunity to do that is the American way.” Yeah, Trent the American way of bribery. To help stop it, call Public Jim Hightower’s talk show broadcasts daily from Austin on more than 100 stations nationwide. His book, There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Armadillos is now in paperback. Find him at or e-mail: [email protected] DECEMBER 4, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13 *”.t11,,,…… ,1.S. ro -4 001,,,