HIGHTOWER: The Stark Naked Bill

Kin Hubbard, a turn-of-the-century humorist, said: "If the government was as afraid of disturbing the consumer as it is of disturbing business, this would be some democracy."Well, today's government, as we consumers have learned the hard way, has become almost a wholly-owned subsidiary of big business. The good news, though, is that occasionally we find a consumer champion inside the belly of the beastÜand I've got one for you today.At a time when too many lawmakers are in the pockets of the giant HMOs that have corporatized our health-care system, Rep. Pete Stark of California is literally trying to protect us patients from modern medical greed. As if medical fees were not high enough already, current law allows a doctor to "negotiate" even higher fees with individual Medicare patients while they're in the doctor's office.Noting that this is hardly fair for the patient, Rep. Stark's bill proposes a few basic ground rules to limit the situations in which doctors can attempt any fee negotiations.Situation One: No negotiations when [quote] "the patient is buck naked and the doctor is fully clothed." To be fair Stark's bill also outlaws fee-talk when "the patient is fully clothed and the doctor is naked." (My own advice is that whenever you encounter a naked doctor, leave immediately.)Situation Two: No negotiations when "the patient is wearing one of those short, flimsy little hospital gowns that don't close in the back."Situation Three: No negotiation "during any sigmoidoscopic or proctoscopic examination," during a digital exam of the prostate, or "any time the patient's legs are in a stirrup device."Several other awkward situations are covered in Stark's bill, but you get the drift.This is Jim Hightower saying . . . To get behind the "Stark Naked Bill," call Rep. Pete Stark's office on 202-225-5065.

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