Viagravation

Viagravation

Viagravation

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 20 1998 7:22 AM

Viagravation

The New York Times leads with the Clinton administration's plan to implement a congressional requirement to assign every American an electronic health identifier code containing his/her complete medical history. USA Today leads with more bad news for GM: On Sunday, Saturn workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. The Washington Post goes with a report being released today by congressional Democrats documenting that the tobacco industry is providing more travel to members of Congress on corporate jets than any other industry. The Los Angeles Times leads with claims by the lawyers of some subpoenaed Secret Service agents that because of the agency's practices inside the White House, their clients aren't likely to know much about President Clinton's personal activities. "They're specifically trained," says one agent's lawyer, "not to pay attention [to] what's going on."

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The NYT says the health identifier code would enable doctors and hospitals to monitor patients' health even if they switch insurance plans, would make obtaining old medical records much easier, and would streamline billing. Additionally, putting the code in place would create a national disease database great for research. Nevertheless, says the paper, privacy advocates and some doctors' groups--including the AMA--fear Big Brother. Trust in doctors, they say, would be eroded. And when even the Pentagon gets hacked, would anyone's medical records be safe?

The Times also notes there are disputes about what kind of identifier should be used. The trouble with just using Social Security numbers is that too many people, companies and agencies have access to them. So more complicated ideas have been proposed: retinal scans or numbers made from such personal information as date of birth and the latitude and longitude of one's hometown. The topic is so controversial--there are, says the paper, already at least five related bills circulating in Congress--that, starting today, HHS is calling for public comment at a series of hearings. Which means the Times is a bit unfair in saying that the administration "is quietly laying plans" for the identifier.

USAT explains that the Saturn strike authorization--voted for by 96 percent of the 5,000 workers who cast ballots--means that the plant could be struck with five day's notice. The LAT, which also fronts the story, quotes the company's CEO saying this is not an actual strike vote and that so far the plant's schedule has not been changed. Workers' issues center on concern about a decreasing role in management, manufacturing and purchasing decisions, and the outsourcing of work to other GM divisions and outside suppliers. There's also a $1,000/per worker dispute about the size of second quarter bonuses.

The Post reports that the Democrats say no member of their party traveled on tobacco company planes from January 1997 through May 1998, the period studied. The paper explains that although members must pay the companies the cost of a first class ticket for such flights, their actual cost can be tens of thousands of dollars more. The story quotes Republican congressman John Linder's explanation: It's "another big perk we get."

The Wall Street Journal takes a snapshot of Web commerce thus far, concluding that entertainment sites have been a bust and that the only real profit comes from dull-but-useful informational ones. The Weather Channel site, for instance, draws more traffic than cbs.com and abc.com combined. And the Mapquest site, which produces custom maps on demand, is busier than the Disney page.

The Journal also reports that NBC honcho Warren Littlefield suggests his network, looking at post-Seinfeld, ratings, uh, shrinkage, is actively considering merging with a cable company (to get a piece of subscriber fees) or TV studio (to get a piece of syndication fees). Or perhaps, says the paper, parent company GE will sell a minority stake in the network to the public.

The WP carries an AP dispatch inside of a tale for our age. In Fontana, California, a distraught man called the local hospital requesting a crisis hot line to call when he felt like stalking women, which he'd been previously convicted of. The nurse who took the call gave him a number she'd found in the white pages. But when she later found out the number had been reassigned to a sex-talk line, she, worried that a distraught person might be pushed over the edge by sex talk, tried to get the number changed. But time spent on the phone to the utilities commission and the attorney general's office was to no avail. So, finally she went to the local paper, which quoted her in its front-page story. That got results: she got fired.

A NYT op-ed asks an interesting question: Why isn't Viagra--like anabolic steroids and tranquilizers, and other drugs that have a narrowly prescribed intended use--a controlled substance? If it's drug abuse to take a pill simply to look virile, the piece wonders, why isn't it illegal to take one to become virile? Because, it answers, Viagra has obvious appeal to rich and powerful men. And you can be certain they're not going to jail.