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September 21, 2009

When "Calling Them Out" Means Chilling Free Speech

This ought to send a chill wind up the skirts of any American who cares about the First Amendment:

The government is investigating a major insurance company for allegedly trying to scare seniors with a mailer warning they could lose important benefits under health care legislation in Congress.

The Health and Human Services Department launched its 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.

Humana Inc., headquartered in Louisville, Ky., is cooperating with the investigation and stopped the mailer earlier this month, company spokesman Tom Noland said Monday.

David Henderson wonders:

For years, various commentators have said that Friedrich Hayek, in The Road to Serfdom, and Milton Friedman, in Capitalism and Freedom, exaggerated the dangers to freedom of speech from government control. But also for years, drug companies have feared criticizing the FDA because the FDA has so much discretionary control over their economic livelihoods. Now HHS has upped the ante. Will the defenders of freedom of speech step up to defend Humana's rights, as opposed to Humana's statements. How many people will there be who disagree with what Humana said, but who defend (I don't even need "to the death"--I'll settle for a letter and postage stamp) their right to say it?

So what is the nature of Humana's "scary" and "misleading" message?

Leading health reform proposals being considered in Washington, D.C., this summer include billions in Medicare Advantage funding cuts, as well as spending reductions to original Medicare and Medicaid. While these programs need to be made more efficient, if the proposed funding cut levels become law, millions of seniors and disabled individuals could lose many of the important benefits and services that make Medicare Advantage health plans so valuable.

This "scary, misleading, and potentially illegal" opinion is shared by such insurance powerhouses as The Associated Press:

OBAMA: "Don't pay attention to those scary stories about how your benefits will be cut. ... That will never happen on my watch. I will protect Medicare."

THE FACTS: Obama and congressional Democrats want to pay for their health care plans in part by reducing Medicare payments to providers by more than $500 billion over 10 years. The cuts would largely hit hospitals and Medicare Advantage, the part of the Medicare program operated through private insurance companies.

Although wasteful spending in Medicare is widely acknowledged, many experts believe some seniors almost certainly would see reduced benefits from the cuts. That's particularly true for the 25 percent of Medicare users covered through Medicare Advantage.

The Cato Institute:

Medicare Advantage allows seniors to choose a private health plan rather than get their health coverage from the traditional Medicare program. The Left has complained Medicare Advantage costs taxpayers more than if those seniors remained in the traditional Medicare program. (I agree, though the reason is not because government is more efficient than private insurance.) The Left has long dreamt of eliminating Medicare Advantage, in part because it poses a threat to their plans for a completely government-run, single-payer health care system. Yet the Left has had to settle for attacking and attempting to eliminate the “overpayments” that Medicare Advantage plans receive. Of course, one can eliminate Medicare Advantage stealthily by reducing payments to private plans until none will participate.

During a session with George Stephanopoulus, Obama outright lies about his intentions with regard to Medicare Advantage:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But he said it's going to cause beneficiaries right now to lose what they have.

OBAMA: Look, I understand that change is hard. If what you're saying is that people who are currently signed up for Medicare advantage are going to have Medicare and the same level of benefits, but they may not be having their insurer get a 14 percent premium, that's absolutely true and will the insurers squawk? You bet.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They may drop the coverage.

OBAMA: No, these folks are going to be able to get Medicare that is just as good, provides the same benefits...

There's just one problem. That's not true:

Medicare Advantage Plans are offered by private insurance carriers (such as Kaiser or PacifiCare) and can be Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans, or Private Fee-for-Service and Specialty Plans. Generally, these plans provide all of the coverage of Original Medicare as well as extra benefits and services such as chiropractic, prescription drugs and hearing aids. Additionally, gym memberships, preventive care services, dental, vision and access to disease management programs may also be covered.

In other words, "You lie, Mr. President". The question is, how does your administration plan to silence every person or corporation who calls you on your dishonesty?

Posted by Cassandra at September 21, 2009 06:14 PM

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This is all just "he said - she said" and "he lied - she lied" until you provide some analysis and specific discussion. Without it, this is just more noise.

Posted by: I Call BS at September 22, 2009 12:51 AM

"It is wholly unacceptable for insurance companies to mislead seniors regarding any subject..."

It's only acceptable when the current regime does it.

Posted by: camojack at September 22, 2009 01:12 AM

...after getting a complaint from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

ObamaCare is Baucus' baby. The Left has repeatedly demonstrated it has no problem disregarding Constitutional prohibitions and assaulting Constitutionally-guaranteed rights when they perceive a political benefit.

This is all just "he said - she said" and "he lied - she lied" until you provide some analysis and specific discussion. Without it, this is just more noise.

Translation: "I can't refute anything because I haven't read HR 3200 and DU hasn't updated its talking points yet."

Posted by: BillT at September 22, 2009 01:39 AM

Cassandra, I know you have relatives that have Medicare Advantage. Where this is so scary is that much of what is offered is preventative, and definitely a much better choice with regard to chiropractic and alternative treatments that give our seniors a better quality of life...thus prolonging it.

My in-laws absolutely love their Medicare Advantage because they can get pool therapy, chiropractic and therapy that helps keep them fit and productive.

Posted by: Cricket at September 22, 2009 06:34 AM

What part of "Gov't issues threat for stating an inconvienient truth" do you not understand?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at September 22, 2009 10:53 AM

"ICBS, What part of 'Gov't issues threat for stating an inconvienient truth' do you not understand?"

Threat? What threat? Has there been a "gag order"? as the press been muzzled? What "clear and present danger" was shown to justify the "prior restraint"?

Posted by: I Call BS at September 23, 2009 12:53 PM

From the very first line of the very first link:

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.

Shut up or we'll take you to court is a pretty big threat of "clear and present danger".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at September 23, 2009 01:03 PM

"La la la la... I can't hear you!"

Posted by: Ever Since I Stuck My Fingers in my Ears I Can't Hear at September 23, 2009 01:07 PM

Ever since I stuck my chewing gum in my ears I can cover my eyes too...

Posted by: I'm a Prog Regressive at September 23, 2009 03:02 PM