KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Insurers, GOP React To Criticism Of Letters To Seniors

Insurers and Republicans react to the Obama administration's criticism of letters about health care reform from insurance companies, including Humana, to seniors. The Associated Press reports: "Republican lawmakers rebuked the Obama administration Tuesday for telling health insurance companies to stop warning elderly customers about proposed health care legislation, which some equated to a gag order."

"GOP leaders said the companies, whose income could be reduced by the legislation, are entitled to free speech and political debate. Tuesday's exchanges came as a Senate committee began debating a health care bill most Republicans oppose. President Barack Obama supports the bill's main provisions, and the flap over insurance companies' mailers is the latest front in a long-running dispute. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid on Monday sent a notice to all companies that sell private Medicare coverage and stand-alone drug plans to seniors. Saying at least one insurer was misleading those customers about the proposed legislation, it told the companies 'to immediately discontinue all such mailings to beneficiaries and to remove any related materials directed to Medicare enrollees from your Web sites.' ... Federal subsidies to private Medicare plans average about 14 percent higher than those involved in traditional fee-for-service Medicare coverage. The health care bills pending in Congress would reduce or eliminate the difference" (Babington, 9/22).

Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones reports: "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday defended Humana, saying that it is 'a common sense conclusion' that Medicare Advantage benefits could be cut under the legislation. ... Humana is located in Louisville, Ky., which McConnell acknowledged in his speech. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, in a letter Tuesday to CMS, expressed concern that the agency may have 'taken action for political purposes' and 'may be selectively and inappropriately using its regulatory powers.' Camp called for CMS to end its 'gag order' against Humana and provide an explanation of its actions" (Yoest, 9/22).

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports: "McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and a persistent critic of the reforms proposed by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, said the government action threatened free speech. ... [Humana] has given $19,000 to McConnell's campaigns since 2000 and $12,000 to Baucus' campaigns, according to Federal Election Commission records" (Carroll, 9/22).

The Washington Post reports: "The mailings in question urge enrollees to contact their congressional representatives and protest the legislation, the memo said. ... A spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry's main lobbying group, issued a statement Tuesday criticizing what he described as the government's 'gag order.' 'Seniors have a right to know how the current reform proposals will affect the coverage they currently like and rely on,' AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach said" (Hilzenrath, 9/22).

Yesterday's Daily Report also included related Humana news.

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