Managed Scare

Art by Bob AulA push by Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation's largest HMOs, to have its members bypass the 9-1-1 system and instead report potential medical emergencies to an 800 number maintained by the insurer doesn't sit well with the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International. The 13,000-member group on Aug. 25 called on Kaiser Permanente to reconsider its policy. "The public-safety community has devoted years to educating the public to dial 9-1-1 for any emergency," said Joe Hanna, the association's president. "The message delivered by Kaiser Permanente is not only confusing to the public, but it also places the lives and welfare of its subscribers at risk. While I fully appreciate the HMO's desire to manage health-care costs, the decision to place the corporate bottom line over the welfare of its subscribers is ill-advised."

ONE RINGY DINGYOver several months beginning last spring, a computer glitch caused Pacific Bell to undercharge more than 2.6 million customers of its subsidized Universal Lifeline program. Now the phone company wants the poor, seniors and disabled who rely on the service to pay them back—not a little at a time over a similar number of months, but in one lump sum, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported on Sept. 3. Universal Lifeline customers—most of whom are on fixed incomes—received August phone bills showing the large payments due without explanation. Pac Bell told the Union-Tribune the bills arrived before letters detailing the computer errors went out and that they'll arrange easier payment schedules. They may have to do more than that: the San Diego-based Utility Consumers' Action Network alleges Pac Bell is trying to collect for bills stretching back five months while state law only allows them to go back three. SURF SHITTY, HERE WE COMEOn Sept. 3, just in time for the usually busy Labor Day weekend, county health officials reopened the final stretch of Huntington State Beach that had been closed due to high bacteria levels caused by urban runoff. That action, like all others during the crisis, prompted a slew of questions. Did you close the beach too late? Did you close the beach too soon? Did you reopen the beach too late? Did you reopen the beach too soon? And Clockwork's personal fave: Did you reopen the beach in time for the final holiday weekend of the summer because of intense pressure from a certain surfin' Republican congressman and his tubby Republican assemblyman towel boy, who are obviously more interested in protecting merchants than swimmers? The assemblyman—Scott "Slime" Baugh—accused county health officials of closing the beach too hastily and had threatened to draft legislation that would allow cities to overrule such closures. Environmentalists got a punch in, too, accusing the county of buckling to pressure and reopening the beach after just two days of clean-water tests instead of the usual seven. (Curioser still when you notice the county closed two and a half miles of the same beach after Labor Day.) Yep, everyone's a-pointin' fingers—sometimes even the not-so-nice one—yet there's one question Clockwork hasn't heard: Given all this finger pointing, why isn't anyone pointing at the toxic beach and demanding to know who allowed it to become this way? PAGING TIPPER GORERather than fret over a decaying coastline, Huntington Beach City Councilman Dave Garofalo worried last week about decaying morals in his fair city. After a resident complained about hearing profanity-filled songs at various cesspools of enjoyment along Main Street, Garofalo asked city staff to find out if certain lyrics can be banned in HB. Deputy City Attorney Sarah Lazarus reportedly reported back that what some might consider offensive music could be banned from private property were it not for this one little thing called THE FIRST AMENDMENT! Maybe they oughta position lifeguards along the street to announce, "Kids, get away from the naughty bars and get back into the crappy water."
 
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