State Dept. Reports on

Religious Persecution

There is widespread religious persecution in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and evidence of discrimination in some democratic countries as well, including Israel and India, the State Department reported yesterday.

Its report on 194 countries and territories is the first of what will become an annual assessment of the state of religious freedom around the world. The most serious violators could face economic sanctions.

The study stressed that religious persecution is not confined to a particular faith. "Throughout the world, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and other believers continue to suffer for their faith," it said.

While the report did not rank the countries based on the degree to which they limit freedom, the excesses attributed to the Iraqi government stood out.

Iraqi leader "Saddam Hussein has for decades conducted a brutal campaign of murder, summary execution and protracted arbitrary detention against the religious leaders and adherents of the Shiite Muslim population," the report said.

Splinter GOP Group

Offers HMO Reform Bill

A group of House Republicans introduced their version of HMO legislation yesterday, expressing frustration with GOP leaders who have not endorsed their bill or offered a patients' rights alternative.

"It's going to happen whether the leadership decides they like this bill or not," said Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), whose bill allows new lawsuits against HMOs but only under certain circumstances.

The GOP lawmakers suggested they would sign on with Democrats to force the issue to the floor if Republican leaders do not agree to support the bill.

"This is an issue that can hurt us politically," said Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). "I hope our leadership got the message. Do the math. They're losing control of this issue."

Republicans, with a slim majority in the House, are struggling to develop a strategy for addressing patient rights in the era of restrictive health maintenance organizations and other managed care plans.

BIA Gets Study

On Mismanagement

The federal agency responsible for most programs serving American Indians is so badly mismanaged it often breaks the law, according to a report by the National Academy of Public Administration, which Bureau of Indian Affairs head Kevin Gover had asked to assess the agency's performance.

"The lack of credible management at BIA appears to impair its capacity to represent Indians within the administration and before Congress," the report said.

"These are deserved criticisms of the bureau," Gover said. He said the agency might need 250 new management employees to fix the problems.