Thursday, 24 September 2009

Baucus Tries to Silence Humana

Written by  Steven J. DuBord

humanaAfter Humana, one of the largest private insurers in America, sent a letter to its customers to inform them how upcoming healthcare legislation could affect their benefits, Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) instigated an investigation that effectively stifled Humana’s communication efforts.

Fox News pointed out on September 23 that the federal government was resorting to “bullying tactics,” and Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the investigation of Humana by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) a “federal gag order.” It is a blatant attempt to silence a company that disagrees with the administration, and McConnell is asking the administration to justify its actions.

The controversy began when Humana sent its customers a letter warning that proposed healthcare reform efforts could severely impact their benefits under the Medicare Advantage program. This should have been no surprise and no problem, since President Obama repeatedly referred to the Medicare Advantage plan during his healthcare town hall meetings as something he wanted to eliminate.

Humana simply stated the obvious in its correspondence: If Medicare Advantage funding is reduced or eliminated, “millions of seniors and disabled individuals … could lose many of the important benefits and services that make Medicare Advantage health plans so valuable.” Apparently the truth hurts, because Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee that oversees the Medicare and Medicare Advantage programs, immediately initiated a CMS investigation of Humana that slapped a “cease and desist” order on the insurer regarding any future healthcare mailings.

Baucus labeled the Humana communique a “scare tactic” that will spread misinformation about current reform proposals, but his Finance Committee reform legislation would indeed cut spending on Medicare Advantage. Under the flawed managed-care system imposed on the United States by the federal government, the CMS does indeed have a degree of regulatory authority over communication between insurers and the insured. But to cry foul when everything Humana is saying can be verified is a patent abuse of power.

“This is so clearly an outrage,” McConnell declared to the Senate. “For explaining to seniors how legislation might affect them, the federal government has now issued a gag order on that company, and any other company that communicates with clients on the issue, telling them to shut up — or else.”

McConnell hit the nail on the head when he further elaborated: “This is precisely the kind of thing Americans are worried about with the administration’s health care plan. They’re worried that government agencies which were created to enforce violations even-handedly will instead be used against those who voice a different point of view.”

In this case, the administration is not just shutting down the dissemination of a “different point of view,” it is forbidding the communication of facts backed up by the Congressional Budget Office. CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf said under questioning by Finance Committee Republicans that the committee’s proposed reforms “would reduce the extra benefits that would be made available to beneficiaries through Medicare Advantage plans.”

California Healthline on September 23 further pointed out that CBO analysis indicates Medicare Advantage plans would see a direct reduction of about $123 billion over 10 years, with additional indirect funding cuts of $15.6 billion. Elmendorf has stated that Medicare Advantage programs could be expected to lose up to 2.7 million beneficiaries during that same 10-year period.

House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Representative Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has joined McConnell in calling for the CMS to explain its gag order. “I have never seen anything like this and I question if politics was the deciding factor,” Camp ventured in a press release. “Given that the administration has failed for more than eight months to nominate a director for CMS, I wonder if undue political pressure may have been applied on the CMS staff.”

That Baucus and those who support the President’s healthcare reform proposals should be so quick to choke off free speech by abusing their power ought to give one pause. Can Americans entrust their healthcare to officials who sink so low? Better yet, Americans ought to learn from this that the managed-care system imposed by the federal government is not part of the problem, it is the problem!

The correct healthcare reform is not the Senate Finance Committee’s attempt to make managed care better, it is Congressman Ron Paul’s suggestion that the managed-care system be dismantled so America can once again return to a genuine free market for healthcare.

Photo: AP Images

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