Beltway war of the week: patients' bill of rights
Want that super-sized?
Give up a Big Mac a month and Teddy Kennedy will give you the right to sue your HMO. Senate rhetoric soared last week as Democrats and Republicans squared off over legislation to regulate managed-care health insurance companies. Democrats served up the super-size burger, fries, and quart-of-Coke version and Republicans suggested the salad. The battle was over the cost. "At the end of five years," contended chief sponsor Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), "the average worker's cost would increase by less than $2 a month-less than the cost of a Big Mac." Here's the skinny: The Democratic bill would have made health insurance companies pay for care if it is consistent with generally accepted principles of medical practice. HMOs could not deny claims for care that doctors, as a group, recommend. But Republicans replaced the Democratic "medical necessity" language with their own system allowing patients to appeal if care is denied. Both plans miss the fundamental flaw in American health care: People don't care how much they are charged because it doesn't cost them a dime directly. This leads to inflated costs, which leads to employers dropping coverage. Neither plan includes provisions promoting Medical Savings Accounts, which would let people keep health dollars they don't spend. Supporters of the Democratic plan hauled out the horror stories, like the one about a woman who fell off a cliff, fractured her skull, and was airlifted to the emergency room. But the HMO wouldn't pay because the unconscious woman didn't call first. While Democrats demonized HMOs, Republicans claimed the bill would be a bonanza for trial lawyers. But what about the Big Mac? Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) offered an estimate that, far from costing a couple of bucks a month for the average taxpayer, the Democrat proposal would run up health care costs by $72 billion. That's enough, Sen. Gramm said, to purchase every McDonald's franchise in America. Sen. Kennedy denied that, but Republicans called the Democrats' cost bluff, with a clever amendment that would automatically cancel all the Democratic provisions in the bill if it raises the cost of health insurance more than 1 percent-equivalent to Sen. Kennedy's hypothetical trip to the golden arches. Every Democrat voted no on the amendment. The Republican "patients' bill of rights" legislation must clear the House before going on to the White House, where the plan faces a certain veto from the fast-food loving president. Forbes takes pro-life pledge
No stealth nominees
Republican presidential hopeful Steve Forbes brought the issue of abortion back to the center of the GOP race last week, pledging that as president he would "not appoint judges to the federal bench if they do not value the precious lives of unborn children." Mr. Forbes made the statement during a week-long trip to 26 counties in Iowa in which the candidate highlighted his views on the Federal Reserve, taxes, and abortion. Does his promise mean that he's committed to nominating people who have well-defined pro-life records or philosophies, as opposed to President George Bush's appointment of David Souter, whose views at the time of his nomination were unclear? "Absolutely yes," Mr. Forbes told WORLD. He said his criteria for all judicial nominees would be "adherence to the Constitution [and] respect for the sanctity of life along the lines of Justices Scalia and Thomas, not only for the Supreme Court but for other federal benches." The No-Comment zone
- High-energy GOP presidential longshot John Kasich sighed and said, "It's just not my time," as he announced the end of his campaign for the White House last week. Appearing at his side was Texas Gov. George W. Bush, whom Mr. Kasich endorsed. Mr. Kasich, chairman of the House Budget Committee, also announced he was quitting Congress at the end of his term. A reporter asked Mr. Kasich whether he would be interested in being Mr. Bush's running mate or having a place in a possible Bush administration. "Of course he would," Mr. Bush answered for him.
- The House of Representatives last week passed the Religious Liberty Protection Act by a vote of 306-118. The bill prohibits state and local governments from imposing a "substantial burden" on religious practices unless they can prove a "compelling governmental interest." The Clinton administration strongly supports the measure, which now must be taken up by the full Senate.
- J.C. Penney scrapped a line of "trash talk" T-shirts aimed at young men with such slogans as "Your game is as ugly as your girl," and "You like that move? So does your girl." The action was in response to a series of consumer complaints and comes just three months after the retailer removed a series of "South Park" T-shirts.
- The Canadian Supreme Court has ruled that a 6-year-old boy cannot sue his mother for prenatal negligence, to the applause of the abortion lobby. Ryan Dobson was born 13 weeks early after his mother crashed her car while pregnant; he now walks with a limp and cannot speak. The court, in a 7-2 ruling, argued that an unborn child is one with its mother and has no distinct legal rights.
- Four-year-old Sam Black had heard from public television's Barney the Dinosaur, "I love you, you love me." But a Democratic Party fundraising letter he received in May seemed to say something more like, "Don't you love the DNC?" The letter, sent to young Sam because his mother had made a contribution in his name to WGBH, a Boston public television station, brought to light an illegal arrangement between the station and the Democratic National Committee to swap names of donors. Federal law prohibits public stations from supporting any political party.
- A Sidney, Ohio, factory worker shot and killed three teenage girls at his home, then gunned down his Bible study teacher five miles away. Brett R. Wildermuth, who was shot and killed at his house, knew assailant Lawrence Michael Hensley through home Bible study classes he taught, said the Rev. Ben Davis, pastor of First Church of God. "He would have no reason to have contact with Mike or to even help Mike if it wasn't for his faith in Christ," Mr. Davis said. "Mike went to him for help." hollywood goes to the left of left
Bye, bye, American Pie
The 11th commandment for movie reviewers is, You shall not comment on films you haven't seen. This summer, since film after film is telling us to break all 10 of the God-given ones, and particularly the commandment concerning adultery, it's time to break No. 11: It's obvious that American Pie, the box-office winner for the July 9-11 weekend ($18 million), is rancid. When the Austin American-Statesman, a newspaper that tries hard to be sexually hip, is grossed out by this film about a quartet of teenage boys working hard to lose their virginity before high-school graduation, it's clear that Hollywood depravity has outdistanced even its liberal-radical supporters. "None of the actors play anything more than sex-crazed windup toys," the newspaper complained. "In this fraudulent universe, teen males have no interests-hobbies, homework, MTV don't exist-except [sex]." Charles Donovan of the Family Research Council perceptively remarked this month about the general trend in "this summer's crop of vile movies marketed to teens." Some are about losing virginity the old-fashioned way, but others, following the trend of Planned Parenthood propaganda, are "pushing the boundaries of sexual behavior into 'anything but intercourse.'" A Washington Post story quoted one young girl saying, "What's the big deal? President Clinton did it." But maybe the times will be changing. A Time magazine survey showed parents, asked at a mall for an appropriate age for sexual intercourse, responding "18," but children saying "23." (The survey did not report the number of people saying, "When you're married.") And some college newspapers panned American Pie: A University of Texas student wrote in The Daily Texan that "the film's failure to deal with the repercussions, or even the changes in the characters who placed so much emphasis on losing their virginity, is the greatest cop-out of all." beatings spark anger
Thousands of students spilled into the streets of Tehran, prompting an unlikely scene: From behind the restraint of their black-cloak chadors, women shouted English obscenities at riot police. It was an apt portrayal of the message behind Iran's madness. While the student protesters were angry with authorities for overlooking vigilante attacks on pro-democracy student leaders, the demonstrations-which had spread to 18 cities by week's end-were more about anger than overthrow. Much as they recalled scenes from 1978 and 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini loyalists protested the Shah and the United States, these protesters lacked the energy and organization to prompt a theocratic downfall. The crisis, in part, was about class warfare: University students tend to be from prosperous North Tehran; members of Ansare Hizbollah, the vigilante fundamentalists who stormed a dormitory at Tehran University July 8, are from working-class neighborhoods in the south. They beat students and pushed some from second- and third-story windows. The official death toll stood at two, but students said it could be as high as eight. soccer: america's political football
Brandi, you're a fine girl
The U.S. women's soccer team captured more than just the Women's World Cup: The decisive victory over China was the most-watched soccer game ever on U.S. network TV, and surpassed the average rating for this year's NBA Finals. The Rose Bowl crowd's biggest reaction during the scoreless tie in regulation time was when it booed President Clinton, who was in attendance, when he was shown on the scoreboard. But the 90,185 fans erupted as the Americans made all of their overtime penalty kicks to sink China 5-4. The game winner ended in a cultural moment: After Brandi Chastain scored, she triumphantly shed her jersey, displaying her swoosh-marked sports bra and perhaps her marketing savvy. Nike sought the rights to use some of the famous photos and will have the undergarments in stores by July 25. For some, though, the victory was as much about politics as it was about sports. Journalists hyped Title IX, the 1972 law that forced schools to have the same ratio of female athletes as they have female students. Mr. Clinton plugged Title IX during a halftime talk, and tournament official Marla Messing called the U.S. players "Title IX babies, [who] are reaping the benefits of the legislation that has enabled them to play soccer their whole lives." In Europe, the game is called football; in America, it's political football. court tosses judge's "establishment" of atheism
DeMented no longer
Ira DeMent, the federal judge in Alabama who unleashed what critics called "prayer police" upon DeKalb County schools to enforce his 1997 order restricting the right of students to pray, was overruled last week. "'Cleansing' our public schools of all religious expression ... inevitably results in the 'establishment' of disbelief-atheism-as the state's religion," said a unanimous panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals last week. The ruling restores the right of students to pray and lead prayers on their own but forbids teachers and school officials from helping out. Judge DeMent's order stems from a lawsuit brought by Michael Chandler, a former vice principal at Valley Head High School in DeKalb County, who claimed the schools illegally promoted Christianity. Backed by the ACLU, he argued that pregame prayers, teacher-led devotionals, and Gideon Bible distribution violated the First Amendment. The ACLU says it is partially vindicated since part of the ruling was upheld, but is considering an appeal. "We'll be right back just where we were," attorney Pamela Sumners said. "We'll have to go reinvent the wheel that the Supreme Court invented for us in 1963. But hey, that's why God invented the Supreme Court." Sabretech charged in Valujet crash
The charge is murder
The 1996 crash of a ValuJet plane was no accident. It was murder, prosecutors say, and the culprit is a company called SabreTech. State and federal officials last week brought murder and manslaughter charges against the company, alleging its employees improperly packed the oxygen generators responsible for setting the DC-9 ablaze and causing it to plunge into the Florida Everglades, killing all 110 aboard. Crash investigators found that SabreTech workers packaged the Thermos bottle-sized generators without required safety caps and falsely labeled them empty. Intended to release oxygen in an emergency, the devices activated, producing over 500-degree flames. SabreTech contended prosecutors are scapegoating the company and ignoring findings of a federal probe, which spread the blame among SabreTech, ValuJet, and the Federal Aviation Administration for lax oversight. SabreTech could face fines that may go to the victims' families as restitution.