Rx for Health Coverage

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Now that your car insurance worries are over (it's hopeless, why worry?), along comes Hippocrates Magazine to give you anxiety attacks over health insurance.

In its November-December issue, Hippocrates (soon-to-become In Health) gives health insurance the sort of thorough examination that earned the magazine two National Magazine Awards in its first two years. The prognosis, according to reporter Constance Matthiessen, is not good.

Already 37 million Americans don't have health insurance, and each year a million more find themselves "going bare"--insurance company slang for the uninsured.

At the same time, more and more claims are denied or tied up in review, more health problems are written out of polices and premiums are doubled or tripled when people get sick.

"We think we are covered but we are all dangerously close to going bare," Matthiessen writes.

Among the cases Matthiessen details are that of a family in Illinois whose young son ran up $225,000 in cancer treatment bills. Eventually, the insurance company effectively pulled the plug on the group policy it had sold to the small school where the boy's father was employed. Other insurers were reluctant to take on the school for one reason only: the little boy needs continuing cancer treatment.

When a company finally did offer the school insurance, other employees wound up paying more to cover the boy's bills.

The magazine presents a balanced package on both sides of the dilemma, with accompanying stories on getting the most out of health insurance and possible national health insurance legislation.

The underlying message is pessimistic, though. As the mother of the boy with cancer says: "There is no insurance! They ought to give it another name."

Getting-Even List

While other magazines have been busy compiling lists about each and every aspect of the 1980s, investigative humorist P. J. O'Rourke has quietly put together a meaningful list: A hit list. An enemies list. A McCarthy-esque smear list for the era.

O'Rourke launched his "Call for a New McCarthyism" back in the July issue of the conservative American Spectator. America, he argues, is experiencing many of the same pleasures and benefits of that "excellent decade" the 1950s: "a salubrious prudery, a sensible avariciousness, a healthy dose of social conformity, a much-needed narrowing of minds. . . .

"But there's one delightful and entertaining feature of the Eisenhower years which is wholly absent from the contemporary scene--old fashioned red-baiting."

Traditional blacklisting is no longer effective, he writes: "Put some Sandalista on your blacklist and you probably guarantee him a MacArthur Genius Grant and a seat on the ACLU national board of directors." And besides, in the minds of O'Rourke and cohorts, pinkos are no longer the primary thorns in the sides of politically correct conservatives.

Instead, O'Rourke's list catalogues not only lefties, but also people, places and things he and his compatriots simply believe hold "silly opinions on matters about which he or she is largely or abysmally uninformed."

O'Rourke got the list rolling in July, with several dozen of his own fairly predictable nominees, including Sting, Norman Lear, The Christic Institute, Common Cause, Berkeley and Donald Trump ("OK," O'Rourke writes, "So he's not a real pinko, but I don't like him. And if McCarthyism isn't good for settling grudges, what is it good for?").

Then he threw the list open to reader suggestions. The first batch appeared in the Spectator's October issue and many more appear in the November issue. The magazine's readers prove themselves every bit as rude and insensitive as O'Rourke himself.

Among the anointed: Whoopi Goldberg; Robin "I wish I were Whoopi Goldberg" Williams; "The geek who does the 'SNL News' on Saturday Night Live";"Michael Jackson, the radio talk show host, not the singer"; MADD; "Feminists who insist upon ragging patriarchy by retaining, upon marriage, their daddies' names"; The California Condor; and "Anyone who refers to the handicapped as 'differently abled.' I suppose the dead are 'differently vital.' "

Also: Bob Barker; "The ideologically correct pronunciation masters: Nicaragua, in English, is knicker-rog-wa. And what's this Chee-lay stuff? I wonder how these people pronounce France ?"; folk singers; poets; mimes; "any organization that is a 'Friends of . . . ' "; "all bemoaners of 'insensitivity.' "

USA Today and the New York Times made the list in toto, but the Los Angeles Times fared rather poorly, with only Times cartoonist Paul Conrad, investigative reporter Robert Scheer and Washington bureau chief Jack Nelson singled out for contempt.

Finally, several magazines made the combined O'Rourke-readers' list, among them: The Progressive, Tikkun, Mother Jones, The Humanist, The Nation, The Village Voice, Sojourners, and National Geographic. (Yes, National Geographic).

Reasoned Defense

Magazines of late have been lining up to take shots at indicted junk bond king Michael Milken, with Spy and Savvy Woman reflecting the diversity of the most recent assault.

Now the tide may be turning. Life's special Fall issue on the '80s applauds Milken as one of five "original thinkers" who "helped reshape the way we see our world . . ." and the Santa Monica-based Reason Foundation, which publishes Reason Magazine, will honor Milken Monday as a "special guest" at it's annual banquet.

Asked about this decision, Virginia I. Postrel, who became editor of Reason last spring, said she hadn't been consulted by the foundation. But she fired up the fax machine and sent copies of two articles published in Reason last year to explain that Libertarian publication's position.

The basic premise of the first article, "Witchhunt,' is that the Security and Exchange Commission's insider-trading laws are antiquated, misguided attempts to create an economic "level field" where none can or should exist.

The second article, "Hustler or Hero?" is a review of Connie Bruck's book on Milken, "The Predator's Ball." There's no doubt which side of the question the writer comes down on. Nor the magazine.

"With securities laws, what is happening is that people are being tried in the public eye for the crime of being rich . . ." Postrel said. "All the pontification and self-righteousness (surrounding the case) has been based on the idea that there is something wrong with people making money, so there must have been a crime committed.

"I'm willing to let the courts decide," whether Milken is guilty of crimes he has been accused of, she said. "He is not being honored at the banquet for being indicted, obviously." Rather, he will be applauded for creating new types of capital in his junk bond trading and for "opening the capital market to people who hadn't had access before. . . . That is a very honorable, entrepreneurial thing."

The foundation banquet, with economist Arthur Laffer as guest speaker, will celebrate "America's Revitalized Economy." It remains to be seen whether the stock market will underscore or inject irony into that title.

In the Fast Lane?

Once again, the men and women in the white coats have our number, Angelenos.

We're last.

Dedicated as ever to learning how humans tick, the folks at Psychology Today set out to determine "the pace of life" in 36 cities across America. Southern Californians' internal clocks, it seems, are a few beats behind.

Utilizing such rigorous research tools as a stopwatch and tape recorder, the scientists spread out far and wide, clocking how quickly pedestrians walked along a city street; how long bank clerks took to give change; and how fast a postal clerk could explain the difference between regular, certified and insured mail. They also noted how many people wore watches.

Then, to add even more legitimacy to all this, they threw in some meaningful figures about coronary heart disease and Type A and Type B personalities.

So, like, we really are, you know, laid back, and all.

Boston is the fastest-paced. Buffalo, N.Y., came in second. Then New York City.

If you're impatient with the somnambulant pace of life here, though, there are plenty of fast-lane options. You could always move to frenetic Salt Lake City, which came in No. 4 on the list. Or into the throbbing chaos of Bakersfield, which was much higher on the list than El Lay. As was Chattanooga, Tenn. And Oxnard.

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