HIGHTOWER: The HMO Bloat

All across America, HMOs have been yanking health-care services out from under the elderly, claiming that the government's Medicare program just isn't paying the companies enough to be profitable.But hold on. These corporate medical providers actually are quite profitable, with Aetna boasting $848 million in profits in its last report, and Cigna hauling in $1.3 billion. Still, if these hot shot HMO CEOs feel they're not racking up enough in profits, why don't they take a look at their own corporate spending policies? I don't mean spending on health care for us patients, but spending on bloated salaries and perks for executives, lavish corporate headquarters, tassel-toed Washington lobbyists trying to stifle patient rights, and other excesses.When your family feels an economic pinch, do you cut back on basics ... or on luxuries? Well, if you're the head honcho of an HMO, you cut basic benefits for your customers, while continuing to splurge on yourself. Aetna's top boss, for example, hiked his pay 115 percent to more than $8 million in 1998, at the same time he was scheming to raise rates and cut services to Medicare patients.In addition, USA Today reports that HMOs are spending a billion dollars a year on such items as luxury skyboxes at sports stadiums, wine for the executive suite, parties, flowers, theater tickets, gift baskets, and other goodies -- all charged to us taxpayers under the Medicare program. Overall, these wasteful practitioners of corporatized medicine are spending a third of our health care dollars on their own executive and bureaucratic costs.This is Jim Hightower saying ... We don't have to be stuck with this system. Instead, we could have a single-payer health care system that stops this HMO rip-off. To learn more, contact Physicians for a National Health Program 312-554-0382 .

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