Free Markets, Free People
Crushing of ObamaCare Dissent
A couple of weeks ago we learned that the Obama administration was “warning” insurance companies about how they addressed concerns with the plans being pushed in Congress, and in one case the Health and Human Services Department, at the behest of Sen. Max Baucus, started an investigation of Humana, Inc. regarding a mailer it sent out to its customers:
The Obama administration warned insurance companies Monday they face possible legal action for allegedly trying to scare seniors with misleading information about the potential for lost benefits under health care legislation in Congress.
“As we continue our research into this issue, we are instructing you to immediately discontinue all such mailings to beneficiaries and to remove any related materials directed to Medicare enrollees from your Web sites,” said a notice from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.
Teresa DeCaro, an agency official, sent the notice to all companies that sell private Medicare coverage and stand-alone drug plans to seniors. The warning came as President Barack Obama’s health care legislation is moving toward key tests in a Senate committee over the next several days, and with public polls showing widespread skepticism among seniors.
In one case, the Health and Human Services Department, which oversees CMS, launched an investigation of Humana after getting a complaint from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., a senior lawmaker usually viewed as a reliable ally of the insurance industry.
“It is wholly unacceptable for insurance companies to mislead seniors regarding any subject — particularly on a subject as important to them, and to the nation, as health care reform,” Baucus said Monday, disclosing the HHS investigation.
It seems that at least one state is following in the federal government’s footsteps:
The Connecticut attorney general is seeking information about what the state’s five largest health insurers may have sent policyholders over legislation that would reform the Medicare program for the elderly.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal wants information from Aetna Inc (AET.N), UnitedHealth Group Inc (UNH.N), Health Net (HNT.N), WellPoint Inc’s (WLP.N) Anthem Health Plans unit and ConnectiCare Inc.
Health insurers have argued that cuts to Medicare Advantage would raise costs and reduce benefits for those who want the private plans.
Blumenthal and Healthcare Advocate Kevin Lembo said they made their requests after reports that Humana sent policyholders “deceptive” materials urging them to oppose changes to the Medicare Advantage program.
“Health insurers must stop using seniors as pawns — scaring them with misinformation in mailings — to oppose cost-saving healthcare reforms,” Blumenthal said in a news release.
Stephen Jewett, a spokesman for ConnectiCare, said health insurers are already required by federal law to have Medicare Advantage marketing materials approved by CMS.
“ConnectiCare believes this request is being spurred by ‘health reform politics’ and is not warranted,” Jewett said in a statement.
Humana, and apparently others, had committed the great offense of warning its Medicare Advantage clients that the current legislation proposed would negatively affect their coverage, which according to the CBO is entirely truthful. In fact, this has been known for quite some time, and Obama himself has said that cuts to Medicare would be part of of the way he intends to realize savings in his health care overhaul. Nevertheless, Obama and Baucus sicced the government on Humana anyway for what they allege were false and misleading claims.
The free speech and abuse of power implications were enough to draw fire from Republicans in Congress, one of whom, Rep. Dave Camp, took CMS to task:
I am writing to express my deep suspicion that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) may be selectively and inappropriately using its regulatory powers to intimidate and silence those who under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution are expressing legitimate facts about the Medicare cuts proposed by President Obama and Congressional Democrats.
Given the importance of health care to America’s seniors, I am sure you will agree seniors currently enrolled in MA have a right to know about how pending policy changes could affect them. I am certainly aware that MA marketing regulations are supposed to be used to ensure that communications from plan sponsors or affiliated groups do not include inaccurate information that would inappropriately steer seniors to certain MA plans. I have read the letter from Humana to its members and it does neither.
Moreover, I am concerned that CMS has taken action for political purposes, which threatens the integrity of the agency and of our democracy. To my knowledge, Humana is the only such plan to be targeted for investigation for speaking out against the Administration and Congressional Democrat’s plan. However, today CMS issued a ban on all MA health plans from distributing similar information.
Camp also pointed out that the AARP, “which has the largest MA plan in Medicare at 1.7 million enrollees, has been a vocal advocate in favor of the President Obama and Democrats’ health care proposals.”
They have spent millions of dollars communicating to its members the group’s support of President Obama’s proposed changes to Medicare via bulletins, television ads, newsletters, and its website. According to USA Today, AARP sent 8 million direct letters about health care reform and Medicare policies under consideration in Washington to its members over Labor Day. Additionally AARP has a “Health Action Now!” website that asks seniors to contact Members of Congress using an AARP-drafted letter that seniors can send via e-mail. These communications seem to be largely similar to the communications sent by Humana, other than they are in support of President Obama’s position.
For example, AARP’s website states that it’s a “myth” that “health care reform will hurt Medicare”, saying that it’s a “fact” that “none of the health care reform proposals being considered by Congress would cut Medicare benefits or increase your out-of-pocket costs for Medicare services.” This flies in the face of what the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has found as it relates to the MA cuts.
The reason behind the AARP’s advocacy may be good old-fashioned graft:
Again, how does AARP benefit from this? Why are they pushing this so hard to their members?
It benefits because along with the rest of the overhaul, Obama wants to institute changes to Medicare Advantage, the current public option for seniors.
Medicare Advantage is a catch-all program for low-income seniors which allows them to choose their drug insurance plan from a variety of companies. Basically, a senior pays into the program, picks an insurance company to go with, and the government subsidizes that company for the cost of the senior’s prescriptions. Everybody wins. (Note: This is different from the Medicare program, which is fully single payer, government run)
So if Obama cuts or eliminates Medicare Advantage, what will those seniors do? Well, they will either go directly to Medicare (the government single-payer option) or they will be forced to buy a supplementary package with a company like… AARP!
Currently, this supplementary drug option – called MediGap – accounts for 70% of AARP’s annual income. How much nicer would things be if they were the only game in town, huh?
Just to recap, the proposed ObamaCare plans will make cuts to the Medicare Advantage program, which will decidedly benefit MediGap policy sellers like the AARP. The AARP, in opposition to its members’ wishes, actively campaigns for ObamaCare, and in doing so spreads the myth that Medicare will not be changed by any of the proposed legislation. Meanwhile, insurance companies offering Medicare Advantage plans warn their clients that cuts are planned that will negatively affect their policies, a fact backed up by the CBO. The Obama administration, Max Baucus, the CMS, and no the Attorney General of Connecticut go after the insurance companies for allegedly spreading false and misleading information in an attempt to scare seniors away from supporting ObamaCare.
Recall also that the Obama administration, through the NEA, sought to enlist the artistic community’s support of its health care plans. This was a blatant attempt to create state-funded (or, at least, state-sanctioned) propaganda. Yet, insurance companies speaking the truth on behalf of themselves and their clients are besieged by the government? I repeat what I stated in the NEA post:
Now, you can call me a conspiracy theorist if it makes you feel important and wise, but how else other than “totalitarian” would you describe “free speech for me but not for thee” enforced at the end of a gun? Does that necessarily mean that we’re headed for gulags? No, but don’t let the failure to cross that line fool you. The Obama administration is putting on a full court press to pass its agenda, and apparently has no qualms about using every resource within its power, legal or otherwise, to accomplish that goal.
It should be clear by now that the only goal Obama truly wants to accomplish is universal health care, either straight away or in a time-release capsule. No other domestic policy takes up anywhere near as much of his time and effort, and his foreign policy is mostly an after thought. That’s fine. I believe he is damaging the country in pursuing this agenda, but it’s his presidency and his legacy, he can waste his political time as he sees fit. However, what is not acceptable in the least are the lengths to which he and his supporters are going to pass that agenda. That’s not just hurting the country from a policy perspective, it’s also seriously violating the constitution and further eroding any confidence the polity has in its government.
Again, was this the change people were hoping for?