Today's Papers

The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today   lead with a decision by the nation’s second-largest managed-care company, UnitedHealth Group, to stop pre-screening routine doctors’ tests and minor surgereries. The Wall Street Journal   puts the HMO announcement in the second spot of its “Business and Finance” box, giving top billing to an anonymously sourced report that Monsanto, the agro-drug company, has been in merger talks with Swiss agro-drug giant Novartis. Monsanto, the Journal explains, wants to separate its farming operations from its drug business to boost its stock price. Its executives are trying to either bisect the existing company or, more likely, merge with another agro-drug conglomerate and then bisect the whole thing. (For more pharmaceuticals mergers, see  Friday’s TP.)

UnitedHealth Group, which covers 14.5 million people, will stop questioning doctors’ decisions before treatment is given. The Journal has the most concrete illustration of this change: Instead of questioning whether a heart patient really needs a cardiac catheterization, for example, United will focus instead on how to get the procedure done more quickly to reduce the hospital stay. Besides the mounting pressure of class-action lawsuits and regulatory bills on Capitol Hill, United’s motive was economic: It had determined that the money saved through pre-screening was less than the cost of employing the pre-screeners. The company will invest the savings in new ways to compare treatment costs with patient outcomes, which it will share with doctors. Only the Post and the Journal credit the Dallas Morning News–and after the jump, at that–with breaking this story Monday.

The Journal tops its “Worldwide” box with Clinton’s dispatch of two negotiators to Beijing in a last-ditch effort to include China in the World Trade Organization before the next WTO meeting on Nov. 30. One inauspicious sign: Clinton had to call Chinese President Jiang Zemin a second time to request an invitation for his emissaries, after Jiang did not return his first call.

On the Journal editorial page, Microsoft President Steve Ballmer writes that his company

cannot compromise on the government’s demands that Microsoft essentially stop listening to the marketplace and cease innovating its products. The current lawsuit would have Microsoft ignore the most important recent development in computing–the Internet–by shipping a version of Windows that omits the critical Internet capabilities.

An analysis of the trial’s fallout on the Journal’s “Politics and Policy” page concludes that Microsoft’s best bet is to curry favor with as many politicians as possible; even if the Justice Department were to drop its suit under a Republican president, the Journal writes, just one state attorney general could keep the case alive. (Microsoft, by the way, publishes Slate.)

The NYT fronts a news analysis predicting that the most likely Microsoft breakup scenario would be along product lines: One company would make Windows, another would make application software such as Microsoft Office, and the third would handle Internet applications. Such a scenario–which Wall Street prefers to a cross-product breakup–might even create more combined shareholder value than current Microsoft stock (which closed $1.625 lower than Friday’s close–but rose about three dollars from its low point after the decision Friday evening). The LAT notes in a front-page analysis that although Microsoft dominates the software industry, it has been less successful in the Internet market and especially in the interactive-cable-TV market. (For Moneybox’s take on Judge Jackson’s brief, click here and here; for a “Frame Game,” click here.)

On the Post opinion page, editorial-board member Sebastian Mallaby predicts a partial rejuvenation of machine-style, get-out-the-vote electoral organizing. Where political ads on television and radio aim to disorient an opponent’s base and suppress his turnout, machine-style organizing aims to energize a candidate’s own base and encourage turnout. The increasing political activity of unions accounts for much of this rejuvenation, of course, but the phone-chain, door-to-door electioneering style of unions is being copied by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and GOP congressional candidates. In the information age, Mallaby writes, even a brief personal recommendation at the water cooler can sway a voter jaded by anonymous electronic campaigning.

Quick! How many ways can you spell the name of the nation’s second-largest HMO? Today’s newspapers manage five. At the Journal and LAT, it’s “UnitedHealth Group” (Today’s Papers’ default); at the NYT, it’s “United Health Group”; at the Post, it’s “UnitedHealthcare”; at USAT, it’s “United Healthcare”; and the LAT also throws in “United HealthCare.” (What? No “”?) Only the LAT explains that “– Group” is the parent company of “– Care.” TP is reminded of the Saturday Night Live skit featuring 1,000 different ways to spell Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi–er, Kaddafi, er, Quadaffi, er …