No health, no care 

Time for today's Hog Report! These big snorters are HMOs -- the corporations that now control America's medical system. That huge one there is Aetna U.S. Healthcare, which has been a leader in squeezing the "care" out of our health-care system, pocketing prodigious profits by cutting back on the treatment it allows its doctors to provide for us patients.

Aetna U.S. Healthcare also was a leader in the industry's successful effort in Congress to kill the Patient's Bill of Rights -- legislation that would have restored some power to us medical consumers when we confront the ruthless actions of HMO beancounters.

Mr. Joseph Plocica could tell you about such HMO ruthlessness ... except that he's dead. He was released from a psychiatric ward in Fort Worth, even though he apparently was still severely depressed and medically unstable. After his release, Mr. Plocica drank a half-gallon of antifreeze and killed himself. His own psychiatrist had wanted him to stay in the hospital for another couple of weeks, but he was overruled by a doctor who had never even seen Mr. Plocica. This doctor worked in the bureaucratic system of Aetna U.S. Healthcare, Mr. Plocica's HMO. He decreed that the HMO would not pay for another night of hospitalization for this ill man, so Joseph Plocica was discharged into the dark night.

Texas is (so far) the only state that allows patients and their families to sue HMOs for malpractice, and Mr. Plocica's family has done so. Ironically, Aetna U.S. Healthcare had gone to court to block the Texas law, but lost, so now it faces the nation's first malpractice case against an HMO. A company lawyer coldly gave the company line on Mr. Plocica's treatment, saying that HMOs don't decide whether a patient is dismissed from a hospital -- just whether that patient's stay is paid for.

Try explaining that distinction to Joseph Plocica.

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