Hightower: HMO Efficiency?

As Yogi Berra once put it: "Half the lies they tell me aren't true." Well, at least half of what we're being told about the increased efficiency and service that'll come our way if only we all turn-over our health care to these corporate HMOs -- is untrue. Yet, Bill Clinton's White House and Newt Gingrich's Congress insist that HMOs are the answer to cutting Medicare costs, and both parties are trying to get us future Medicare patients to shuffle-off into these "Docs R Us" chains. But check this: HMO executives are paying themselves salaries of up to $50 million a year, their companies are socking-away billions of dollars to buy-out other HMOs and monopolize the market, and their administrative charges are eating up as much as 70-percent of every dollar you and I spend on health care. So much for efficiency. And you want to talk service? Kaiser Permanente, America's largest HMO, moves new mothers and their infants out of the hospital quicker than you can say ASAP. No more two or three days to make sure momma and child are OK -- an internal Kaiser memo tells staff to pack them both up and have them out of the building within eight hours after delivery. Then there's the investigation that health officials made of HMOs serving Medicaid patients in New York City. In 69 percent of their undercover calls to request a prenatal checkup for a woman four-month pregnant, they could not get the appointment. No service, no care, no give a damn. Here's a final one: Many HMOs are docking the pay of docs who send us sick patients to emergency rooms, which can be expensive. so you call your HMO doctor at 2 AM with chest pain. Does he rush you to the ER, or does he think of his own wallet and say: take a Rolaids and call me in the morning? When these HMO executives try to get into heaven, St. Peter will say: Sure you can come in -- but you can only stay eight hours.

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