News Capsules (July/August 1999)

Author: 
Compiled by Medical Sentinel Editors
Article Type: 
News Capsules
Issue: 
July/August 1999
Volume Number: 
4
Issue Number: 
4

MSA Expansion


Recognizing the problems of the MSA pilot project in the Kassebaum-Kennedy law (see Medical Sentinel, News Capsules, January/February 1999, p. 8, and "Expanding MSAs: Real Patient Protection," March/April 1999), Reps. Bill Archer (R-TX) and Bill Lipinski (D-IL) have proposed the Medical Savings Account Effectiveness Act (H.R. 614) which allows: any size company to offer MSAs; MSAs to be offered by cafeteria plans; both employers and employees to contribute to the MSA; MSA contributions to equal 100 percent of the deductible, and lowers the minimum deductible to $1000 for individuals and $2000 for families, according to the Small Business Survival Committee.

This bill has a blue dog Democrat from Chicago as a co-sponsor and there are currently only 30 members of Congress as co-sponsors. Call your Congressmen and ask them to become co-sponsors by calling the Capitol Hill Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

(Scott Holleran, Americans for Free Choice in Medicine, e-mail: afcm@netcom.com.)

NCPA Proposes Tax Credit Plan

The National Center for Policy Analysis is proposing a system of refundable tax credits to improve health care access. The NCPA says current tax law is a major reason that the number of uninsured people is at 43 million and growing. Most people receive health insurance as a benefit of employment, and tax law excludes these benefits from the employee's taxable income. By contrast, individuals who purchase health insurance on their own must do so with aftertax dollars.

Under the NCPA plan:

° The federal government would commit a fixed sum of money for health insurance (i.e., $800 per adult and $2,400 for a family of four) in the form of a tax credit.

° Since the credit would be fully refundable, even those who owed no income taxes would get the benefit if they bought insurance.

° Employers who provide health insurance for their employees would be allowed to remain in the current system or switch to the new tax credit system.

° Unclaimed tax credit funds would fund state and local health care programs for uninsured people who cannot pay their medical bills.

("Reforming the U.S. Health Care System," NCPA, Dallas, Texas, www.ncpa.org.)

 

AAPS Statement on Legislation on Data Collection

...The medical data market is growing...Certain special interests would like to claim exclusive rights to this valuable data...

Unfortunately, the AMA is one of those special interests. Now dominated by business activities, the AMA would like to sell its data at enormous profits and limit competition. The AMA thereby adds unnecessary costs to physicians and patients, who bear the charges. Physicians must bear the costs of royalties to the AMA for manuals, software and seminars for the Current Procedure Terminology (CPT) system, which is imposed on physicians by force of law. [See Andrew L. Schlafly's "AMA's Secret Pact With HCFA," Medical Sentinel, July/August 1998.]

HMOs are another special interest. They would profit enormously from exclusive control over the medical data of their patients. If HMOs can control the medical records of a patient, then they can minimize the patient's ability to see physicians outside of the HMO.

Most states recognize the importance of medical data to the patient and to quality medical care in general. States require by law that HMOs and others provide patients and their physicians full access to their medical records. The right of patients to access quality medical care requires that such patients and their physicians not be excluded from their medical records.

Yet H.R. 354 does exactly that. It creates a new federal right of HMOs and other corporations to exclude patients and their physicians from medical records. It creates a new federal right of the AMA to exclude physicians and others from medical coding systems necessary to comply with applicable law...

The result of these Sections will be a race to build medical databases in order to exclude others from those databases. The corporation that controls the patient data will control the patient, and patients' ability to select their own physician will be far more limited than it is now. The widespread frustration that patients express about managed care, on Election Day and otherwise, will become far worse under H.R. 354...

(The complete testimony of Dr. Jane Orient on H.R. 354 "Collections of Information Antipiracy Act" submitted to the Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property of the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. House of Representatives on March 18, 1999 is available at www.aapsonline.org.)


Government Violating Privacy


Information is a most valuable asset as America enters the 21st century. U.S. Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) called on Congress to "exercise aggressive oversight of government transmission, retrieval, storage, and manipulation of private personal information," at a major international conference in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Barr participated in a panel discussion on Project ECHELON, which began in the 1980s, and is controlled by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). ECHELON allows the government to intercept virtually any internationally transmitted phone conversation, fax, e-mail, or data transfer.

Rep. Barr urged citizens to contact legislators, the news media, and "demand the government account for its surveillance activities, including Project ECHELON, and take steps to ensure the privacy of electronic communications.

"As the withdrawal of the FDIC's 'Know Your Customer' proposal shows, public involvement in privacy issues can be successful. However, in other cases --- such as the vastly expanded wiretap authority granted to the government last year --- a lack of public notice and involvement in the legislative process can have disastrous privacy consequences...

"However, the public can change this situation, by constantly demanding disclosure of, and protection from, government surveillance activities," Rep. Barr concluded.

Barr, a former U.S. Attorney, serves on the House Judiciary, Government Reform, and Banking committees. He has worked to limit government wiretapping power, stop the creation of databases, and block proposals for national identification systems.

(For additional information please visit Rep. Barr's website at http://www.house.gov/barr.)


Armed "Flak-jacketed" Agents Carry Out Medicare Raid


A small rural hospital in McMinn County, Tennessee was raided by 37 armed, flak-jacketed agents on a mission to collect Medicare and Medicaid records on February 24. Seizures were conducted at four locations owned or operated by the 72-bed East Tennessee Woods Memorial Hospital.

"Send in the accountants with pocket protectors to seize the records. Don't send in the FBI agents with guns and flak jackets," Craig Becker of the Tennessee Hospital Association told the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

"I don't think this should ever occur at a hospital. This is not the same as if you were dealing with drugs or something like that," said Mary Grealy, chief counsel for the American Hospital Association.

Hospital employees claim agents "constantly trampled through sterile areas" where patients receive dialysis treatment, wouldn't let them use the restroom or answer a phone without permission and kept a dozen workers in a small room for about an hour while records were checked.

Agents came from the FBI, IRS, and Tennessee state authorities.

Judy Holz, a spokeswoman for HHS' Inspector General, which oversaw the operation, disputed some of the claims and stated no charges have been filed in the case in the Etowah district, though such investigations can take two to five years.

(The AP, 04/14/99. Despite the assurance of the Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder (Medical Sentinel, News and Analysis, May/June 1999), the police state of medicine continues unabated. Doctors and hospitals remain targets...---Ed.)

Dr. Kevorkian Convicted

After participating in what he says were more than 130 suicides over a nine year period, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of a 52-year-old patient with Lou Gehrig's disease. He told The Oakland Press: "Manslaughter, I could understand how they would arrive at that. But murder? This? They must have been an astonishingly cruel jury. I got what I wanted --- a conviction. Why? That proves how corrupt the society is, and how malevolent are those who run it."

The 70-year-old retired pathologist had been tried four times on assisted-suicide charges. He had had three acquittals and one mistrial. Dr. Kevorkian's only prior conviction was in November 1998 when he was charged with a misdemeanor for a scuffle with police after he and an associate had dropped off a body outside a hospital.

On April 14, Dr. Kevorkian was sentenced to 10-25 years for second-degree murder. On handing down the sentence, Judge Jessica Cooper stated the trial "was not about the political or moral correctness of euthanasia. It was about lawlessness."

Dr. Kevorkian had dared the legal system to stop him. "Well, sir, consider yourself stopped."

 

Gun Lawsuits Off Target, Benefits of Guns Exceed Costs

Despite a number of lawsuits filed against the gun industry, making similar arguments to the ones used successfully against the tobacco companies, a new study by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) concludes that, unlike tobacco, the benefits of gun ownership exceed the cost.

"Cities have it backwards; guns are used more often by law-abiding citizens to prevent crimes than they are used to commit crimes," says H. Sterling Burnett, a policy analyst with the NCPA and author of the study. "Reduced to a matter of dollars and cents, the savings to cities from defensive gun uses dwarf the cost of gun violence."

According to the study (based on noted criminologist Gary Kleck of Florida State University), citizens use guns in self-defense about 2.5 million times each year. Violent crimes are prevented often by merely showing the weapon. For example:

° Women faced with assault are 2.5 times less likely to suffer serious injury if they respond with a firearm rather than try to defend themselves with a less effective weapon or offer no resistance.

° Only one-fifth of victims of violent crimes who defended themselves with firearms suffered injury, compared to almost half who defended themselves using other types of weapons or who had no weapon.

° About 3,000 criminals are lawfully killed each year by armed civilians - that's more than three times the number killed by police. (Citizens have the advantage of being at the scene.)

The net benefit from guns ranges from $1 billion to $38.8 billion per year. Using the conservative figure $4.5 billion of Dr. Edgar Suter of Doctors for Integrity in Policy Research, it represents three times the declared medical care costs incurred by guns.

Furthermore according to the study, the suits create bad law. One reason the overall rate of serious crime in the U.S. is at a 20-year low is that since 1987, 22 states have passed concealed carry laws.

Recent data compiled by University of Chicago economist John Lott, PhD found that:

° Concealed carry laws reduced murder by 8.5 percent, rape by 5 percent, severe assault by 7 percent.

° Liberalizing concealed carry laws would have prevented 1,600 murders, 4,200 rapes, and 60,000 assaults throughout the U.S.

(National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) at http://www.ncpa.org.)

 

FDA Charged With Approving Sale of Tainted Blood


At a National Press Club conference in Washington, D.C. last February, Canadians asked the U.S. government to investigate the FDA's approval of the sale of blood collected from American prisons to Canada in the 1980s. In what is unfolding to be a scandal of gigantic proportions, Canadian citizens, many afflicted now with AIDS and/or hepatitis C, are charging the U.S. FDA with allowing tainted blood to be sold to Canada. Many of the victims have also joined in a class action lawsuit against several U.S. organizations including the FDA to parallel the group's filing of a $1.1 billion lawsuit in Canada against the Canadian government and blood brokers involved in the transactions. Allegedly during 1980-1985 over 1000 hemophiliacs were exposed to blood collected from U.S. prisoners.

According to Michael McCarthy, a Canadian hemophiliac, "By 1982, your FDA decided that this prison plasma wasn't suitable for American domestic production of [a] hemophilia product. Unbelievably, the FDA allowed this high-risk plasma to be exported to Canada to be put in the veins of innocent Canadians.

"Why, if this dangerous plasma wasn't safe enough for American use, was it suitable for your neighbors? The result of your country's [FDA] failure to protect us from this lethal plasma is that half of the thousand Canadian hemophiliacs who were exposed to this plasma are now dead."

The special Canadian Krever Commission, found the Connaught Laboratories which served as a conduit for the blood to be used in Canada was 40 percent owned by the Canadian government. After this fact became known, thousands of demonstrators protested in Ottawa and the government agreed to compensate the victims for $1.1 billon Canadian dollars.

Dave Harvey, attorney for the Canadians, avers: "Hepatitis and AIDS were running in the same circles. What were those circles? People with tattoos, people engaged in homosexual sex, people using IV drugs. Where could you find a better collection of those three groups than in a prison?"

"...Again, how can you place a life and death system, based on honesty, inside a prison?

Whether the FDA will explain its regulatory process and their ethical guidelines remains to be seen.

(Sue Blevins, President, Institute for Health Freedom, Washington, DC, March/April 1999, www.ForHealthFreedom.org.)

 

Patients To Spy on Their Doctors

On February 24, 1999, the federal government and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) launched an aggressive campaign to urge seniors to spy on their physicians by urging Medicare patients to contact a toll free fraud hotline if they suspect improper billing by their physicians, hospitals or other health care providers. Yes, HCFA is veritably deputizing seniors in its war against fraud and abuse, intensifying the police state of medicine. Medicare patients will be rooting out fraud and abuse in return for a $1000 per case bounty. Reportedly, HCFA and AARP will be holding rallies to rally the troops. While HCFA estimates that improper payments have fallen from 46 percent in the past two years to $12.6 billion in 1998 from $23.2 billion in 1996, the government admits it cannot separate honest mistakes from fraud and abuse. AMA President Nancy Dickey, while lamenting this "ill-conceived and reckless strategy" of "offering a reward for the patient to drop a dime on the doctor," stated the administration should "sit down with us to work out a responsible and legitimate way to resolve the problem or real and documented improper Medicare payments."

(The Wall Street Journal, 02/24/99.)

 

Mediscare II and the Medicare Reform Commission

According to Paul A. Gigot of The Wall Street Journal (Interactive edition, March 12, 1999), Mediscare II is the lynchpin of the Clinton administration payback strategy to retain the White House and regain Congress in 2000. In other words, Democrats will again charge Republicans with wanting to have "taxcuts for the rich ahead of spending for seniors."

Gigot writes: "What counts is that Democrats would have retaken the House of Representatives last year if their share of the senior vote hadn't fallen from 1996. Democrats hope to make up that ground next year by offering seniors "free" prescription drugs that would be affordable if only heartless Republicans didn't want to help taxpayers.

White House Chief of Staff John Podesta has told Democratic staff on Capitol Hill that this theme is the key to retaking the House. Mr. Clinton has heard the same from House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt. Vice President Al Gore is also in the tank for Mr. [Barney] Frank. And thereby is the plan for Mediscare II for the year 2000!

"The only problem is that the big losers won't be Republicans. They'll find a way to blunt the issue. The losers will be seniors stuck with the same old Medicare jalopy driving toward insolvency and rationed care," wrote Gigot.

And that is why out of his 17-member Commission, Sen. John Breaux (D-LA), Chairman, was not able to garner the 11 votes (he got 10, none of them Clinton appointees) needed to pass his recommendation (i.e., to remodel Medicare after the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP) that insures 9 million federal employees and lets them choose among dozens of plans offered by private insurers.

 

Canadian Poll on Health Care

Socialized medicine has often been called "a defining characteristic" of Canada. However, recent polls show public opinion has changed dramatically.

In 1988 and then a decade later in October 1998, Canadians were polled by researchers at the Harvard University School of Public Health and The Commonwealth Fund:

° In 1988, 56 percent selected the most favorable option - "On the whole the system works pretty well and only minor changes are necessary to make it work better" - whereas in 1998 only 20 percent agreed.

° A decade ago 37 percent averred that "There are some good things in our health care system, but fundamental changes are needed to make it work better" - while in 1998, 56 percent agreed.

° And in 1988, only 5 percent agreed that "Our health care system has so much wrong with it that we need to completely rebuild it" - while in 1998, 23 percent agreed.

When another poll, conducted by the Angus Reid Group in December 1998, asked whether "Canada's health care system" had "improved, stayed the same, or worsened" over the preceding 5 years, 73 percent perceived it to have worsened.

Also released in December 1998, a poll by the firm Pollara found that 20 percent "strongly agree" and 43 percent "somewhat agree" that individuals should be allowed to "upgrade to the best possible health care treatments and techniques available using their own private resources" - although this is illegal under the Canada Health Act.

(Fraser Institute, Vancouver, BC, http://www.fraserinstitute.ca/forum/1999/february/medicare.html.)

This edition of News Capsules was compiled by Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D., Editor-in-Chief of the Medical Sentinel of the AAPS. It appeared in the Medical Sentinel 1999;4(4):119-122. Copyright©1999 Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.

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