Pa. Surgeons Threaten

New Year's Day Walkout

PHILADELPHIA -- Hospitals in eastern Pennsylvania braced for a potential New Year's Day walkout by scores of surgeons who say they can no longer afford to buy malpractice insurance policies, some of which cost as much as $300,000 a year.

With a midnight deadline looming, there were signs that Gov.-elect Ed Rendell (D) might have averted a large-scale work stoppage with a proposed aid package that would reduce doctors' insurance payments by $220 million in 2003.

Several large surgical practices in northeast Pennsylvania backed off from a threat to stop performing operations if something wasn't done about insurance costs.

Those who agreed to keep working were banking that Rendell can persuade the Republican-controlled Legislature to accept his plan.

* Starting today, homeowners nationwide will not be able to obtain or renew flood insurance policies, because Congress failed to renew the federal program before adjourning in November. The National Federal Insurance Program lost its statutory authority to issue, renew or increase coverage on policies yesterday. Most of the 4.4 million flood insurance policyholders will not be affected if they renewed by yesterday.

* AUSTIN -- Texas is not constitutionally obligated to pay for abortions for poor women who may have health complications from their pregnancy, the state Supreme Court ruled. The 8 to 0 ruling upheld a state law that prohibits the use of Medicaid money for abortions except in cases of rape or incest or when the mother's life is in danger.

* COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A federal judge declared unconstitutional South Carolina's license plates with the antiabortion slogan "Choose Life," saying they violate the First Amendment by providing a forum for abortion foes that abortion rights supporters do not have. Planned Parenthood had challenged the plates and won an injunction that kept them from being issued.

* BOSTON -- Incoming Gov. Mitt Romney and Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey say they will forgo their salaries for the next four years and use the money to pay top staff members more during the state's financial crisis. Romney, a millionaire former venture capitalist, would have made $135,000 a year, while Healey, who is also wealthy, would have made $120,000.

* ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Faced with a huge budget deficit, Minnesota's next governor proposed to save money by appointing his lieutenant governor to a second job as commissioner of transportation. Lt. Gov.-elect Carol Molnau agreed, saving the state the $108,000 a year the commissioner makes.

* LOS ANGELES -- A truck carrying vegetables through Los Angeles overturned, spilling 40,000 pounds of broccoli across a six-lane freeway.

* A baby said to be the first human clone has gone home with her mother, but the company that took credit for "Eve" would not say where home was or where the baby was born. A Florida lawyer asked a judge to appoint a guardian for the baby, saying that Clonaid is trying to commercially exploit the child and that she needs specialized medical treatment.

-- From News Services