Monday, June 20, 2005

CIGNA Can't Take a Joke

The Associated Press reported (see the Washington Post version) that the Dr. Douglas Farrago, the physician who edits the humor magazine Placebo Journal was threatened with legal action for publishing a satirical piece on managed care. The parody was of a patient satisfaction survey, by the imaginary "SICKNA Healthcare" managed care organization, signed by "W. E. Sucque" from the "Medical Thievery and Health Policy Division."
After the piece was published, his employer, Sisters of Charity Health System, received a call from CIGNA Healthcare's lawyers demanding the Farrago "cease and desist." Apparently, CIGNA Healthcare's contract with the hospital system bars physicians from "any false or disparaging communications which could, or are likely to interfere with or otherwise damage any of CIGNA's existing or potential contractual relationships." CIGNA spokesperson Lindsay Shearer suggested that the complaint arose from offended CIGNA employees, "our employees work very hard to provide high quality service to our members, our clients, our providers. And when they see stuff like that it upset them."
Perhaps CIGNA really does have some employees who are easily offended. Perhaps they were educated at some of the insitutions of higher learning, so well documented by FIRE, where a slightly offensive remark is grounds for charges under the local "speech code." (See this link for examples.)
However, it was CIGNA's lawyers, not its line employees, who went after Dr. Farrago. So maybe the company's heavy-handed approach to suppressing free expression will generate more bad publicity for it than Farrago's parody could ever have done.
I agree with Farrago's take on this, "If my hospital, who has allowed me the freedom to be creative, gets bullied to fire me over this then it proves that HMOs are really running our health care system."
File this one under "intimidation and coercion," sub-category "attacks on free expression."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm sure the medical community is as understanding of any disparaging parody of itself, too.