Archive for April 23rd, 2010
A Reuters report yesterday pointed to an insurance company practice that’s so awful, it’s almost hard to believe. Reporter Murray Waas explained that WellPoint, an insurance powerhouse, apparently developed a policy of targeting customers with breast cancer, and then launching fraud investigations against them so their coverage could be dropped.
The practice is just breathtaking. According to government regulators and investigators, the affected customers had paid all their premiums and had no problems with their insurer, but WellPoint decided their breast cancer treatment would be expensive. It was easier to investigate them, rely on "erroneous or flimsy information," and drop the customers before the medical bills started piling up.
It’s "rescission" at its most offensive.
Obama administration officials contacted WellPoint about this today, and White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer posted this item:
Just yesterday, we read with great alarm a news report that WellPoint, one of the country’s largest health insurers, is routinely dropping coverage for women that are diagnosed with breast cancer.
These are the kinds of scenarios that motivated the President to work so long and so hard to pass health reform. And because of the health reform legislation passed last month, the worst excesses and abuses of the insurance industry — including what WellPoint is said to have done — will soon be reined in by new tough consumer protections.
Yesterday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote a letter to WellPoint’s CEO urging her company to immediately end this harmful practice.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was outraged, too.
"WellPoint’s practice of dropping anyone’s coverage when they get sick – whether a woman with breast cancer or any other patient – is exactly the kind of insurance company abuse our new health care law prohibits.
"Soon every American can be secure knowing that their insurance companies cannot cancel their coverage because of an illness.
"And when Republican leaders call for repeal of the health reform law, they are endorsing a return to these abusive policies that have no place in our medical system."
I still occasionally find it hard to believe health care reform was deemed unnecessary by so many.
As you can see, businesses care for nothing more than increasing profits, and if they must do that via morally outrageous actions, so be it. They don’t care. Profit outweighs everything for a business. This is why businesses must be watched, regulated, and slapped down when they break the rules. It is important, I think, that the officers of a business (the board of directors, the CEO and other chief officers) be jailed for serious transgressions. A business will pay a fine with no problem, but when the officers go to the slammer, it makes it real. Just ask Dennis Koslowski of Tyco International.
The New York Times‘ Scott Shane reports today that Dr. Henry Heine, a former U.S. Army microbiologist, testified Thursday before a panel of the National Academy of Sciences examining the FBI’s scientific claims in the anthrax case, and said "it was impossible that the deadly spores had been produced undetected in Dr. [Bruce] Ivins’s laboratory"; that "[a]t the Army’s biodefense laboratory in Maryland, . . . among the senior scientists, no one believes it‘;" and when "[a]sked by reporters after his testimony whether he believed that there was any chance that Dr. Ivins, who committed suicide in 2008, had carried out the attacks, [he] replied, ‘Absolutely not‘." Ivins’ hometown newspaper, the Frederick News Post, has long provided excellent and skeptical coverage of the FBI’s case, and provides more details about Heine’s testimony.
Shane details the reasons for Heine’s emphatic doubts and calls his testimony "a major public challenge to [the Government's] conclusion in one of the largest, most politically delicate and scientifically complex cases in F.B.I. history." It is that, but Heine’s extreme skepticism is hardly unusual. As I documented on Wednesday, equally serious doubts about the case against Ivins are found among countless leading scientists, bioweapons experts, establishment media outlets and political officials in both parties. The NAS panel is "review[ing] the bureau’s scientific work on the case, though not its conclusion on the perpetrator’s identity." There has been, and apparently will be, no real investigation of the FBI’s case against Ivins because President Obama has threatened to veto any such investigation on the ground it "would undermine public confidence" in the FBI’s case. In a rational world, with a President committed to transparency and accountability, that would be a reason to have an investigation, not a reason to obstruct one.
Of course, Obama has already dictated that past crimes should not be investigated (unless the crime was whistleblowing that embarrassed some agency).
Earlier this month, the whistleblower website WikiLeaks released a deeply disturbing video of a U.S. Army Apache helicopter in Baghdad in 2007 repeatedly machine-gunning a group of men that included a Reuters photographer and his driver — and then opening fire on a van that stopped to rescue one of the wounded men. (Here’s my article about it.)
The two Reuters employees were killed. But Reuters, which had been asking to see the video for two and a half years, didn’t have much to say right away.
Today, Reuters editor-in-chief David Schlesinger is out with an opinion column entitled "What I want from the Pentagon". His central point: "What I want from the Pentagon — and from all militaries — is simple: Acknowledgment, transparency, accountability." Here he is on the accountability part:
Let’s dig behind the video. Let’s fully understand the rules the military were operating under. Let’s have a complete picture of what was going through the fliers’ minds. Let’s hear the Pentagon explain its interpretation of the rules of engagement and the Geneva Convention and how the actions either did or did not accord with them in its view. And importantly, let’s keep in mind that while we focus on this particular tragedy, it is the rare circumstance that when a journalist is injured or killed in a conflict area, there is a video of the death, and even more rare as this case demonstrates, for the public to see such a video.
I totally agree. I want what he wants. And here’s something else I want.
I want someone on Capitol Hill to give a shit.
So far (and I’ve done a bit of calling around) I haven’t heard any member of Congress express any intention of holding an oversight hearing into the matter — or even asking any questions at all.
They seem utterly uncurious about how exactly it was OK for a bloodthirsty-sounding helicopter crewman to open fire on a group of (apparently) armed men when all they were doing was milling around on a street corner — not to mention how it was OK to target the Good Samaritan van driver who pulled over to help one of the injured men. (He was killed; his two small children were wounded.)
Even more than that, to be perfectly honest, I want someone on Capitol Hill to give a shit about the gruesome cover-up by U.S. forces in Afghanistan after they massacred five innocent civilians, including three women, two of whom were pregnant — just this past February. Just not on video (as far as we know).
In case you missed it, the very same morning the WikiLeaks video was released, the New York Times confirmed reports by heroic Times of London correspondent Jerome Starkey that American Special Operations soldiers actually dug their bullets out of the bodies of the women as part of a cover-up. NATO headquarters, led by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then backed them up and repeatedly tried to discredit Starkey and his story.
Is that standard operating procedure? Again, I haven’t heard a peep of interest from the Hill — despite the fact that Starkey himself has argued that it was not an isolated incident, and that U.S. and NATO forces are rarely held to account for the atrocities they commit.
Where’s the outrage? Where’s the responsibility? Where’s the oversight? Hell, where’s the basic curiosity? Has anyone on the Hill even asked any questions of the Pentagon or the White House? Hey, President Obama, are you OK with this?
Does your member of Congress give a shit?
Call them and let me know what you find out.
Recommended by Constant Reader, Pirate Radio is a terrific little movie with a great cast and good story.
I’m not much of a baseball fan, but I did enjoy this:
Anyone who has worked with children with autism knows that, based on symptoms alone, this disorder is comprised of several different types. Yet, surprisingly, no authoritative study exists to validate this supposition. That is about to change.
For the first time ever, a long-term study of boys and girls with and without autism is being conducted. Jam-packed with scientific evaluations of each participant that will provide data scientists can use for decades to come, this study is destined to determine once and for all if there are subtypes of autism, and, if so, exactly what those subtypes are. This ambitious study is taking place at the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute.
Named the Autism Phenome Project (“phenome” means “all observable characteristics”) it is the largest and most comprehensive assessment of children with autism ever attempted. It aims to distinguish among recognized subgroups, or phenotypes, of autism, linking them with distinct patterns of behavior and biological changes. Ideally, the findings will lead to targeted — and thus more effective — treatments specific to each child’s type of autism.
“Some children have autism symptoms from birth, others not until their second birthday,” explains principal investigator David Amaral, who serves as the M.I.N.D. Institute’s research director. “Which ones have gastrointestinal problems or immune problems? Who is more likely to have seizures? At the moment, we don’t really have the big picture.”
“This project is designed to gather sufficient information about a large enough group of kids to parse them into homogeneous, or similar, subtypes,” he adds. “At that point, researchers can explore the causes of each type of autism.”
As co-principal investigator Sally Rogers puts it, “The M.I.N.D. Institute was created to bring scientists together who had expertise among them in all the aspects of autism so that we could look at the whole of autism in a single study, rather than just one part at a time. That’s what the Autism Phenome Project (APP) is all about: parents, children and researchers forming a team to tackle all of autism, at once.”
Led by Amaral, a multi-disciplinary team of more than 50 M.I.N.D. Institute scientists began a pilot study in 2006 of …