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News Briefs

Supreme Court Agrees to Rule On Suits Against HMOs


In a case of potentially great significance for managed care companies and their patients, the Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide whether health maintenance organizations can be sued for damages for refusing to cover necessary medical treatment.

The court granted appeals by two managed care companies that do business in Texas, where a state law, the Texas Healthcare Liability Act, provides compensatory and punitive damages against HMOs for coverage decisions that are found to amount to malpractice.

A federal appeals court, ruling in both cases, permitted suits against Aetna Health and Cigna HealthCare of Texas to proceed in state court under the statute. The question for the Supreme Court is whether such suits conflict impermissibly with federal law and are therefore barred.

The federal law, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, known as ERISA, governs employee benefit plans, through which more than 130 million people receive their health coverage.

African Anglicans Threaten Break From Church Over Gay Bishop


Africa’s Anglican leaders expressed fury on Monday at the consecration of a gay bishop in New Hampshire, renewing their intention to break from the American church and deepening an ideological fault line that crisscrossed the world.

“The devil has clearly entered our church,” said Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya, who has announced that his church will have nothing to do with the Episcopal Church USA, which sanctioned the election of Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who was consecrated on Sunday.

Similar sentiments were heard from conservative church leaders around the globe.

“The United States have declared independence,” Archbishop Gregory Venables, Anglican leader of the Southern Cone of South America, said. Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney, Australia, told the Reuters news agency, “It’s a sad day for the church.”

The opposition seemed most vociferous in Africa, where gays remain closeted and popular sentiment regards same-sex relationships as a vice exported from the West. Attacks against homosexuality are a feature of Sunday sermons, and political leaders condemn gays as aggressively as the man on the street does.

Start-Up Rolls Out ‘Energy Harvesters’


Hoping to boost the fledgling business of creating low-powered networks of industrial sensors and devices, a Cambridge start-up is rolling out a system that uses no batteries -- just “energy harvesters” that can convert the vibrations of machinery and air-conditioning systems into enough electricity to transmit small bursts of data.

The development comes as a handful of companies in the emerging market are fighting to show they have developed not just an interesting science project, but a potentially revolutionary technology. Its uses could cover everything from building temperature control and fire protection to automated reading of water and electric meters and management of industrial processes and warehouse operations.

Industry analysts see “machine to machine” networking on the cusp of becoming a multibillion-dollar industry, once businesses have faith the systems work reliably and can really help them cut costs.