Cigna not laughing at parody

A Maine physician plans to continue making funny jabs at the medical community even after a run-in with one insurer.

By Damon Adams — Posted Aug. 15, 2005

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Douglas Farrago, MD, says some people just can't take a joke.

An item in the Maine family physician's humor publication Placebo Journal didn't tickle the funny bone of Cigna HealthCare. The journal did a parody physician satisfaction survey to be conducted by the phony Center of the Study of Useless Things for a company called Sickna HealthCare.

A multiple-choice question asked how phone calls to Sickna were answered. One of the choices: In over 6,000 calls, no one at Sickna has ever answered the phone.

Some Cigna employees weren't amused. Dr. Farrago said Cigna contacted his employer, Sisters of Charity Health System, and wanted the doctor to stop. Cigna said its contract with Sisters of Charity has a clause that prohibits physicians from making disparaging communications that might damage Cigna's contractual relationships.

Dr. Farrago said the incident won't keep him from taking comical jabs at the health care industry.

"I'm still here. I'm not fired yet," said Dr. Farrago, who practices in Auburn, Maine. "I'm not really scared. It is parody, and parody is protected [by law]. I'm picking on all HMOS, not Cigna."

But Cigna spokeswoman Lindsay Shearer said sometimes humor can hurt. "Many of our employees were offended by the content and the language. These types of articles tend to perpetuate misconceptions about managed care."

But Dr. Farrago sees it differently. "The bottom line is they didn't like to be teased."

In Placebo Journal, the doctor targets almost anything in medicine, from doctors to HMOs to pharmaceutical companies. He remembers another time his humor did not go over well: drug representatives didn't like his spoof, OxyContin candy.

He said if his magazine gets more popular, more people are likely to take offense to something. Maybe he's expecting it; he's starting to call himself "Public Enema No. 1."

"My hospital has allowed me to do the Placebo Journal and allowed me to be creative," he said. "If it gets bullied to fire me [over the Cigna incident], it proves the HMOS are running the health care system."

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Placebo Journal (link)

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