Today's Papers

SS Coupes

Three of the leads address a common theme: strengthening patients’ rights. USA Today leads with a new proposal by the federal government that would solidify patients’ protections against being refused hospital treatment on financial grounds. The New York Times goes with word that President Clinton will propose expanding Medicaid and Medicare to allow those with disabilities to continue receiving benefits even if they work. And the Los Angeles Times lead states that the next Congress is well positioned to pass new controls on managed health care plans. The Washington Post leads with a focus on the latest industrial giants to be suspected of profiting during World War II from the Nazis’ use of slave labor–Ford and GM.

USAT explains that new Health and Human services regulations coming out this week would make it clear that hospitals cannot delay care while awaiting coverage approval from a patient’s insurance company. The paper says it’s unclear how many cases there have been of this sort of insurance-based “dumping,” but adds that during the 1998 fiscal year, HHS noted a total of 54 dumping cases. The story says that hospital officials insist they already treat all emergencies, and that the real, continuing problem not addressed by the new guidelines is what to do about patients who present at emergency rooms for routine primary care.

The Times says the Clinton disability proposal–similar to a bipartisan bill that didn’t make it to a floor vote in this Congress–is designed to correct the feature of current law under which the disabled usually have to choose between working and keeping their health insurance–particularly perverse in the many cases when it’s precisely the insurance that provides the therapy and/or medicine that allows the person to hold a job. Currently, eight million disabled people of working age receive more than $50 billion a year from Social Security and Supplemental Security Income, says the paper, and fewer than 1 percent of them work.

The LAT cites a signal reason why prospects for federal health care reform are looking up: the new Republican House leadership looks more favorably on it than Gingrich and company did. Indeed, Speaker-elect Bob Livingston was a co-sponsor of a defeated bill that would have allowed a patient to sue an HMO for damages when the plan’s withholding of authorization was linked to harm he or she suffered. Some such provision is likely to be revisited, says the LAT, in this next Congress. One vote-getting compromise mentioned is that patients would be allowed to sue their HMO only after they’ve exhausted all the plan’s internal administrative appeals.

The Post says some of the information in its Ford/GM story was first revealed in a 1974 congressional inquiry, but is relevant again now and is being augmented with additional evidence because of new class-action suits being filed on behalf of former slave laborers, in the wake of recent similar and successful legal moves against Swiss banks. There is no question that both companies had large German subsidiaries, nor that these subsidiaries provided ample slave-labor-produced materiel to the Nazi war effort. GM was the largest producer of trucks for the German Army and Ford was number two. The primary issue to be litigated, says the Post, will be how much knowledge and control the automakers had with respect to their German operations after Pearl Harbor. Virtually none, say the companies. Still, a jury will probably be interested to learn that as late as the summer of 1938 both Henry Ford and his GM counterpart received the highest Nazi medal. One defect in the story: It says that Chrysler’s role in the German rearmament effort in the thirties was “much less significant” than that of the other two companies. But a little elaboration is required–after all, Chrysler is now joined at the balance sheet with longtime German auto colossus Daimler.

Online advertising, reports a front-pager at the Wall Street Journal, appears to be taking off. Some say more than 80 percent of the Net’s 1997 ad slots went unsold, but first-half 1998 U.S. spending for cyber ads totaled $774 million, double the year before. Plusses of the new ad medium: It’s excellent for start-ups, where on-line commerce is often stressed, and on-line sites seem more accommodating to advertisers than print or broadcast, especially regarding old-line church-and-state issues about blurring the line between editorial and advertising content. Big negative: Still-high per-consumer-reached costs.

There’s a curious lapse in today’s effort by the WP’s generally excellent media reporter Howard Kurtz. Kurtz somewhat breathlessly reports that Suzanne Daley, South African bureau chief of the NYT, was mortified when right in front of her, Nelson Mandela made a sexist remark about her to her boss, the Times’s Joseph Lelyveld. But this is hardly a scoop and in any case, not Kurtz’s scoop. He neglects to mention that the story was published more than six weeks ago over Daley’s byline in the NYT.