Dog Bites

Divorce, Doctor Style
Consumer advocate and presidential candidate Ralph Nader drew first blood last week in the war of the stethoscopes that is scheduled for the November election.

A few months ago, the California Nurses Association (CNA) -- backed by Nader and insurance industry buster Harvey Rosenfield -- succeeded in getting the Patient Protection Act (Proposition 216) onto the ballot. A group led by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) -- which represents a variety of hospital and nursing home workers -- Californians for Patient Rights, and the American Association of Retired Persons followed promptly with their own version, the HMO Patient Rights Initiative (Proposition 214).

Before either was ever on the ballot, the two alliances were actually working together to tame the power of HMOs. And both initiatives still target financial incentives that HMOs pay to doctors for limiting treatment and "gag rules" that prohibit doctors and nurses from discussing things like non-covered procedures.

But, alas, their earlier marriage broke up; during the drafting process, both sides took their thermometers and went home to craft their own initiatives.

Nader, Rosenfield, and the nurses support creation of a consumer association with watchdog power over the industry that would impose "greed fees" on HMO profits. The union and the patients' rights group thought such an initiative wouldn't pass. Meanwhile, the union wanted protections for its members, which the other side wouldn't buy, saying that that rewards the use of untrained workers.

At an Aug. 21 press conference, Nader accused the union of sleeping with the enemy. "This follows a strategy that special interests have adopted, which is to confuse the voters," Nader said. He also attacked SEIU's proposition for handing legislators the power to override reform enacted by voters.

SEIU fired back, arguing that CNA's 216 contains too many provisions that make it unlikely to gain voter approval. "Our initiative specifically says that it can only be amended [by the Legislature] in accordance with the purpose and intent," says Maureen Anderson, spokesperson for the 214 campaign, responding to Nader's concern about lawmaker overrides. "Our initiative is easy to understand. We drafted something that would win."

Meanwhile, the HMOs are having a field day with advertisements depicting "the bickering twins." The insurance companies are set to spend about $10 million fighting both initiatives. And voters are likely to be visited once again by "Harry and Louise" of insurance advertising fame.

Lisa Davis

No Mo
On the heels of our report of an imminent decision on the fate of the battleship USS Missouri ("Beating Swords Into Tourist Shares," Bay View, Aug. 21), Navy Secretary John Dalton announced that Honolulu had won the "Mighty Mo." The decision thwarted the efforts of Adm. Russ Gorman and Jim Lazarus, the former mayoral aide who'd tried twice before to bring the Missouri to S.F.

Dalton's decision comes in spite of a National Park Service memo detailing how the Missouri would be "historically abstract to the story of Pearl Harbor as she was not built here, was not here on December 7[, 1941], and is out of interpretive context" in Hawaii, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Our guess? The scandal-shaken Navy secretary may be putting peacenik S.F. in its place, and more important, blowing a kiss to Hawaii's Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye, ranking overseer of the Appropriations subcommittee that determines the Navy's budget.

Paul D. Kretkowski

 
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