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Gov't Tries to Silence Insurance Company Concerned about Obamacare

3:32 PM, Sep 22, 2009 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Reuters reports on a "gag order" against Humana:

Republicans, health insurers and others blasted the U.S. Medicare agency on Tuesday for what they called political interference over companies that want to directly contact customers about the impact of pending healthcare reform legislation.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which oversees the Medicare program for the elderly and disabled as well as privately run Medicare alternatives, on Monday said it was investigating a letter Humana Inc sent enrollees about efforts to overhaul the nation's healthcare system.

Humana's letter, sent in an envelope citing important plan information, told customers that Democrats' bills could hurt 'millions of seniors and disabled individuals could lose many of the important benefits and services that make Medicare Advantage health plans so valuable,' according to CMS.

The agency also warned other insurers against sending potentially misleading health reform mailings to customers.

'It looks likes CMS is engaged in government intimidation, pure and simple,' Rep. Dave Camp, the ranking Republican on the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement.

Privately run Medicare plans, also known as Medicare Advantage, make up more than 20 percent of Medicare coverage, with more than 10 million elderly or disabled Americans choosing them over government-run fee-for-service plans.

America's Health Insurance Plans, the lobbying group for Humana and other health insurance companies, called the CMS action a 'gag order.'

Critics pointed to the direct intervention of Sen. Max Baucus, who urged CMS to get involved and said he welcomed the investigation of what he called 'scare tactics' by Humana. CMS announced its Humana probe before Baucus's committee began work on his health reform bill on Tuesday.

This afternoon in the Senate, Mitch McConnell and Lamar Alexander ripped Baucus and CMS (see a transcript after the jump).
MR. McCONNELL: MR. PRESIDENT, I RISE TO CALL MY COLLEAGUES'

ATTENTION TO A TRULY DISTURBING DEVELOPMENT IN THE HEALTH CARE

DEBATE. A COLLEAGUE OF OURS -- A COLLEAGUE OF OURS HAS CALLED

FOR AN INVESTIGATION INTO A MAJOR HEALTH CARE COMPANY BECAUSE

THIS COMPANY INFORMED ITS CUSTOMERS OF ITS CONCERNS ABOUT

HEALTH CARE LEGISLATION THAT THIS COLLEAGUE OF OURS INTRODUCED.

LET ME SAY THAT AGAIN. A COLLEAGUE OF OURS HAS CALLED FOR AN

INVESTIGATION OF A MAJOR HEALTH CARE COMPANY BECAUSE THIS

COMPANY DISAGREED WITH A BI OUR COLLEAGUE INTRODUCED. AS A

RESULT, THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS NOW TOLD ALL COMPANIES THAT

PROVIDE MEDICARE ADVANTAGE TO STOP COMMUNICATING WITH THEIR

CLIENTS ABOUT THE EFFECTS OF THAT LEGISLATION. LET ME SAY THAT

AGAIN. THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS NOW TOLD THESE COMPANIES TO

STOP COMMUNICATING WITH THEIR CLIENTS ABOUT THE EFFECTS OF A

PIECE OF LEGISLATION THAT'S BEFORE US. EVEN TELLING THEM WHAT

THEY CAN AND CANNOT POST ON THEIR WEB SITES. THIS GAG ORDER,

ENFORCED THROUGH AN AGENCY OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AT THE

REQUEST OF A CENTER, IS WRONG. IT STARTED WHEN A COMPANY BASED

IN MY HOMETOWN OF LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY, HUMANA, HAD THE

TEMERITY, MR. PRESIDENT, THE TEMERITY IN THE EYES OF SOME OF

OUR COLLEAGUES, TO EXPLAIN TO ITS CUSTOMERS THAT IF MEDICARE

ADVANTAGE IS CUT, AS THE CHAIRMAN'S MARK REQUIRES, IT MAY

REDUCE BENEFITS, WHICH, OF COURSE, IS A COMMONSENSE CONCLUSION.

NOW, MR. PRESIDENT, THIS IS AMERICA, THE UNITED STATES OF

A. CITIZENS, EITHER AS INDIVIDUALS OR GROUPED TOGETHER IN

COMPANIES, HAVE A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT -- A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT --

TO TALK ABOUT LEGISLATION THEY FAVOR OR OPPOSE. IN THIS

COUNTRY. THIS IS THE CORE OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT'S PROTECTION

OF SPEECH. UNFORTUNATELY THIS IS PART OF A TROUBLING TREND OF

EFFORTS TO DISMISS THE CONCERNS RAISED BY THE AMERICAN PEOPLE

OVER THE PAST FEW MONTHS. OVER THE SUMMER, WE SAW AMERICAN

CITIZENS WHO RAISED CONCERNS ABOUT THE HEALTH CARE PROPOSALS

BEFORE CONGRESS DISMISSED -- ULTIMATELY DISMISSED, AS SOMEHOW

UN-AMERICAN BY LEADERS HERE IN CONGRESS. THAT'S BAD ENOUGH. BUT

USING THE FULL WEIGHT OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT'S ENFORCEMENT