HIGHTOWER: Don't Dial 9-1-1 ... Dial H-M-O

Let's say you're at home one evening, sitting there in your La-Z-Boy, maybe with a cool one in your hand, when suddenly you feel a sharp pain in your chest, your left arm is tingly and sort of numb. Heart attack! Or it least it could be one. You go for the phone to get emergency help .. but you don't call 9-1-1... instead you call H-M-O.What?! Yes, it's the latest "advance" in the wonderful world of managed health care -- instead of calling 911, you've got to call your HMO, and its corporate bureaucrats will decide whether you get an EMS to come help you.USA Today reports that Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest HMOs in the country, is the first to impose this new layer of corporate bureaucracy between you and the medical service you need -- a bureaucratic step that could waste precious minutes as you explain to some Kaiser clerk sitting in a cubicle way out in Wisconsin what your symptoms are and why you think you need an ambulance pronto, PDQ, post haste, and, like, right now!You'll be pleased to know that the HMO clerk at the other end of the phone has received a good four weeks of training for the job, so of course he or she is perfectly qualified to diagnose you from afar. If the clerk decides you need an ambulance, one is then dispatched to you. But -- get this -- the HMO will send an ambulance from a firm that it contracts with, even though another company's ambulance is closer to you.Kaiser says it's doing a favor for the whole society because, according to its emergency medical services director, "there's a finite number of ambulances. We want to reserve them for those who really need them." Great. A corporation with a bottom-line incentive NOT to send an ambulance is going to be the arbiter of whether you get one. And if the HMO makes a boo-boo, leaving you dead at the other end of the phone, remember -- the Republicans in congress continue to give HMOs immunity from lawsuits.This is Jim Hightower saying ... Welcome to the cold world of corporatized medicine.

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