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Copyright 2000 The Washington Post  
The Washington Post

December 14, 2000, Thursday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 1207 words



Contraceptives and Insurance

It's against federal law for employers to exclude contraceptives from their health insurance plans when they cover other preventive treatments, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said yesterday. The decision directly affects only two women who complained to the commission, but it has implications for millions of others whose health insurance plans exclude birth-control pills, diaphragms and other forms of prescription contraceptives. Specifically, the EEOC said that excluding contraceptives is a violation of the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which requires equal treatment of women "affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions," in all aspects of employment, including fringe benefits.

HCA to Plead Guilty, Pay $ 95.3 Million

HCA, the nation's biggest hospital chain, has agreed to plead guilty to health-care fraud and pay fines and penalties of $ 95.3 million, under a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice that is due to be announced today. The settlement is based on charges that HCA conspired to defraud government health-care programs, including Medicare, by making false statements, paying kickbacks to doctors and submitting false bills. The settlement culminates a five-year-old case that accused HCA of a "systemic" conspiracy to defraud the government. MORE NEWS

Ford said it is delaying the introduction of the 2002 Explorer by several weeks to ensure that the company's signature sport-utility vehicle is not plagued by defects or recalls. The world's second-biggest automaker said it began building the vehicles but won't ship them to dealers until mid- to late February. The decision comes after dealers this month put pressure on the automaker to resolve problems before new or redesigned vehicles arrive in showrooms. The company's new small SUV, the Escape, has been recalled five times since its introduction in August for problems ranging from steering-wheel nuts to speed-control cables and fuel lines.

Whirlpool plans to cut as many as 6,000 jobs, or 10 percent of its workforce, and said fourth-quarter profit will miss analysts' estimates because appliance sales fell and costs rose. The appliance maker will take $ 300 million to $ 350 million in charges against next year's earnings, spokesman Christopher Wyse said.

Northwest Airlines had said it would never happen again after more than 6,000 passengers were trapped in planes at the Detroit airport for more than eight hours during a 1999 snowstorm. But during Detroit's worst winter storm since then, 139 passengers bound for Miami say they were stuck in one plane and then another for about seven hours during mechanical and weather delays Monday. The entire ordeal, including two breaks in the terminal, lasted just over nine hours. A few frustrated passengers with cell phones called 911 and demanded that someone get them off the plane, passengers said. Northwest officials said the incident was isolated, and they quickly tried to compensate the passengers with flight vouchers and cash.

General Electric said it expects Department of Justice today to announce an antitrust review of its $ 54 billion purchase of Honeywell. GE called the move "not unexpected" and said it still expects to close the deal in the first quarter of 2001.

George Becker, 72, president of the United Steelworkers of America since March 1994, will resign Feb. 28, according to an internal memo circulated to the union's nearly 750,000 members. According to the memo, Leo Gerard, secretary-treasurer of the union, has been chosen to succeed Becker.

Lucent Technologies, the troubled phone-equipment giant, may be a takeover target with its shares trading near a three-year low, Merrill Lynch analyst Michael Ching wrote to clients. Though few companies could afford Lucent because it is so large, Lucent may be attractive to a European maker of telecommunications equipment that lacks a large share of the U.S. market, Ching said. He declined to speculate on potential suitors. He also said an acquirer could recoup nearly the entire purchase price by selling Lucent's microelectronics group, which Lucent wants to spin off.

MasterCard International will begin issuing "smart cards" in the United States, joining American Express and Visa in trying to popularize the credit cards, which have imbedded programmable computer chips. The new cards will be available to banks and other institutions worldwide starting in January. The cards are intended primarily for online shopping.

Negotiators for United Airlines and the International Association of Machinists announced they were taking a brief recess to review their latest bargaining proposals. Sources close to the talks said they did not expect the recess to last very long. The two sides reported progress in the talks, which are reported to be down to wage issues, with most other contract issues resolved. The talks involve United's 15,000 mechanics. Meanwhile, a federal judge refused to issue a temporary injunction barring United mechanics from taking part in a work slowdown, saying it would "serve no useful purpose."

A hacker infiltrated an Internet company's database of credit-card numbers and posted them online in a failed extortion attempt. The FBI has launched an investigation into the attempt against Los Angeles-based, which processes credit-card transactions for online companies. More than 55,000 card numbers were swiped from and later posted online. The Web site with the numbers, which went up when the extortion fee was not paid, has since been taken down, the FBI said.

Enron, the world's largest energy trader, named its president and chief operating officer, Jeffrey Skilling, as chief executive, succeeding Kenneth Lay, who will remain chairman. Lay, 58, has been chairman and CEO since February 1986. Skilling, 47, joined Enron in 1990 and and became Enron's president and chief operating officer in 1996. The management changes will be effective Feb. 12.


The U.S. Army will announce today that it is awarding a $ 453 million, five-year contract to PricewaterhouseCoopers to manage a new program that will allow 80,000 soldiers to earn college degrees over the Internet. Army University Access Online--part of an intensified effort to boost recruitment--will be managed from PricewaterhouseCoopers' Dulles-based government consulting offices. D.C.-based Blackboard Inc. will serve as a subcontractor for the project, providing the online framework for the college courses that soldiers will take from their far-flung bases. Northern Virginia Community College and Anne Arundel Community College are among the 29 colleges from which they will be able to obtain degrees. The program will start in January at Army bases in Georgia, Kentucky and Texas.


General Mills said fiscal second-quarter profit rose 4.6 percent because sales of snacks and yogurt increased. Net income at the maker of Cheerios cereal and Yoplait yogurt rose to $ 202.7 million, or 70 cents a share, from $ 193.7 million, or 62 cents, a year earlier. Sales in the quarter ended Nov. 26 rose 4.3 percent, to $ 1.9 billion from $ 1.82 billion.

LOAD-DATE: December 14, 2000

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