The Skinny is Keach Hagey's take on the top news of the day and the best of the Internet.
It's the kind of story that makes Europeans look at the American health care system and shake their heads.
The Los Angeles Times reports that one of California's largest health insurers set goals and paid bonuses based in part on how many individual policy holders were dropped and how much money was saved.
Times reporter Lisa Girion writes that Health Net Inc. avoided paying $35 million in medical expenses by rescinding about 1,600 policies between 2000 and 2006. During that period, it paid the senior analyst in charge of cancellations more than $20,000 in bonuses based in part on her meeting or exceeding annual targets for revoking policies.
The Times had to get its lawyers involved to pry the documents backing up these claims out of Health Net's clutches, even though the company had to produce them for a law suit brought by one of those dumped policy holders.
Health Net tried to keep them secret, arguing that they would embarrass the company. (Perhaps they should have thought of that before complimenting their analyst for her "banner year" in 2003 when she exceeded her performance goal and helped the company avoid "$6 million in unnecessary health care expenses.") But in the end, the newspaper won, and so was able to show, for the first time, how an insurer linked cancellations to employee performance goals and to its bottom line.
The suit was brought by Pasty Bates, a 51-year-old hairdresser whose coverage was rescinded by Health Net in the middle of chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer, leaving her with $200,000 in medical bills.
Three years later, she still has a catheter embedded in her chest where the chemo was pumped in and is unable to afford tests to determine whether the cancer is gone.
Health Net contended that Bates failed to disclose heart problems and shaved 35 pounds off her weight on her application.
Bates' lawyer, William Shernoff, claims that the analyst's performance goals show that Health Net was bent on finding any excuse to cancel the coverage of people like Bates to save money.
"I haven't seen this kind of thing for years," Shernoff said. "It doesn't get much worse."
Bush The Elder Defends Bush 43
USAToday reporter Susan Page scored a rare interview with Bush the Elder yesterday, and used it to needle the 83-year-old former president about his son's Iraq policy.
"Do they want to bring back Saddam Hussein, these critics?" the elder Bush said. "Do they want to go back to the status quo ante? I don't know what they are talking about here. Do they think life would be better in the Middle East if Saddam were still there?"
Bush was interviewed in a replica of the White House Situation Room at his remodeled presidential library in Texas, where visitors can play a new interactive computer game that allows them to consider options Bush 41 weighed during the Gulf War.
The program calls the idea of going to Baghdad "very tempting" but says it "would have been a disastrous decision," splintering the international coalition and leaving U.S. and possibly British troops on their own in Iraq."
Bush 41 "reacted testily" when asked about criticism of Bush 43, and said that questions like those raised by USA Today are one reason he generally eschews the press.
Witches Open A School In The Heartland
A business calling itself the Witch School recently opened on the main drag of Rossville, Ill. - pop. 1,200 - and the local churches are spooked, USA Today reports.
The school, which calls itself a "pagan colony" and claims to have more than 190,000 registered members online, offers seances, initiations and rituals six days a week.
The town's major is fine with it, as the school pays property taxes, collects sales tax and uses city-owned water and gas systems, in addition to filling an empty building in a town that already has plenty of vacant storefronts.
When two people showed up at a City Council meeting to object to the school, he told them, "I don't remember voting on you coming to town."
But the local churches are up in arms. Church leaders have put up a billboard that reads "Worship the Creator, not creation" - a reference to the Wiccan belief that elements of natures are deities.
"Our ultimate goal would be to convert them to Christianity," said youth pastor Andy Thomas. "If that doesn't happen, I don't know what will be next."
A NOTE TO READERS: The Skinny is available via e-mail. Click here and follow the directions to register to receive it in your inbox each weekday morning.