Staying well

John McCaslin
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Posted: Jun 20, 2003 12:00 AM

As lawmakers move toward adding a prescription-drug benefit to Medicare, seven former Health and Human Services secretaries want Congress to go one step further. They want Medicare to focus more on keeping people healthy - not just waiting until they become sick before benefits kick in.

The seven officials include former HHS secretaries Donna Shalala (Clinton administration), Louis Sullivan (George H.W. Bush), Margaret Heckler, Otis Bowen and Richard Schweiker (Ronald Reagan), Joseph Califano (Jimmy Carter) and David Matthews (Gerald Ford).

A recent Harris poll found that nine in 10 American adults want Medicare to be modernized, to put as much emphasis on disease prevention as it does on disease treatment.

The HHS secretaries asked Congress to consider recommendations made in a new report by the non-profit organization Partnership for Prevention. It recommends Medicare start covering preventive services such as cholesterol tests, vision and hearing screening, depression counseling and stop-smoking efforts.

Such services would save lives and tax dollars, they said.

"It is nearly always preferable, both for the individual and for society, to prevent disease instead of waiting to treat it," the seven Cabinet members said.

FEEL SAFER?

How is the "new and improved" Immigration & Naturalization Service faring now that it falls under the "Homeland Security" umbrella?

You be the judge.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) has just received a letter from one of his constituents named Christine Mito, who lives in the historic town of Shelby. Her great-great-great-grandfather, Amos Merrell (b. 1788), settled in Shelby County after the War of 1812.

A widow for several years, Mito remarried on March 31 of this year. Her new husband, Alaa Gaber Mito, was a prominent business executive in Egypt, and fewer than two months ago he came to America to begin a new life with his wife and her family.

To say Mr. Mito kept his in-laws waiting at the airport is an understatement.

"He arrived in Atlanta on April 26, 2003, and was kept for nearly five hours," Mrs. Mito tells Shelby. "He was fingerprinted and a mug shot was taken of him, yet his passport was not even stamped as it should have been."

Oh well, better safe than sorry.

"Then, when we went back to Atlanta on May 7, 2003 for his first follow-up interview at the INS, they had no record of any fingerprints or photos that were taken at the airport on April 26, 2003," she continues. "If the INS can't even keep his mug shot on file, how in the heck are they going to keep track of real terrorists?"

(Why would an actual terrorist return for an interview anyway, particularly a botched one?)

Her husband's photo and fingerprints were retaken by the INS, and Mr. Mito was charged $50 for his time and trouble. Then, in follow-up correspondence, the INS wrote to the Egyptian national and asked him to attach an additional separate photo to "this original green sheet."

There was no green sheet.

In the meantime, a frustrated Mr. Mito is unable to obtain a driver's license, cannot open a bank account, or get a job - at least legally.

Wait until he feels the Alabama humidity.

AHOY, OSAMA!

"Osama bin Laden isn't going to check in after coming ashore." -- Republican Deputy Majority Whip Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, who's asking the Department of Homeland Security to rewrite new restrictions for recreational boaters who, upon returning from any foreign port such as The Bahamas, are required to clear customs through either a hotline number (boaters report spending hours dialing the hotline only to reach a busy signal) or appearing in person to an immigration officer at a U.S. port-of-entry.

SHE AIN'T THAT BAD

Martha Stewart's indictment couldn't have come at a better time for Washington-based damage-control guru and author Eric Dezenhall.

Dezenhall's new novel, Jackie Disaster, about a "deliciously loathsome doyenne of good taste and domestic living" who finds herself embroiled in an ugly corporate scandal, was released by St. Martin's Minotaur Books the same day as Stewart's recent indictment on charges relating to insider trading.

Because of his day job and literary subject, Dezenhall has become the pundit of choice to address Stewart's situation across the media spectrum.

"What's scary is that some of the tactics Martha is really using to divert attention parallel stunts in the book," he says. "Except for the murders, blackmail, arsons and narcotics-related frame-ups."

PRESIDENTIAL RANGE

James Renwick Manship, who has kept busy impersonating George Washington at patriotic rallies around America, was delighted to read that the New Hampshire legislature has voted to rename a mountain after former President Ronald Reagan.

Manship, in fact, considers Reagan "the most important man in the world in the past century."

Who's better than the Gipper?

"The highest peak in the presidential range is 'Mount Washington' for President George Washington, the most important man in the world in the last millennium," he says.

The entire world?

"Because he was the first military leader in over 2,000 years - since before Jesus Christ, since Cato and Cincinnatus in the Roman Republic - to peacefully give up military power and thereby gave birth to our American Republic, thus becoming the father of his country," Manship explains.

"Reagan said in 1982, 'The most sublime picture in American history is of George Washington on his knees' in the snow at Valley Forge."

During one patriotic pilgrimage in 2000, Manship climbed to the top of Mount Washington and discovered yet another presidential peak.

"While looking at the map, I saw that the range already had a mountain named for ex-President Bill Clinton," he says. "It is named Mount Deception."

DUBYA TAKE

As this columnist was masquerading around Paris last week, President George W. Bush was welcoming hundreds of fellow Yale alumni to the White House for a college reunion.

If only we could have been on hand to see the look on Dubya's face when one old college chum, Peter, walked up to shake his hand.

Yale, we should remind readers, was still all-male in 1968.

Yet as Louise Casselman, who attended the White House reunion with her husband, Kirk Casselman, told San Francisco Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik, one Bay-area alum has since had a sex-change operation.

"You might remember me as Peter when we left Yale," the woman told a shocked Bush when the two Yallies met face to face.

The columnist notes, however, that Dubya didn't flinch for a moment, grabbed the alumna's hand, and told her, "Now you've come back as yourself."