A California Consumer Group Says Major Insurers Coerced Employees To Lobby
"The nation's two largest health insurers have been pressuring employees to lobby against healthcare reform in Congress in violation of a California law against coerced political activity, a consumer group alleged Wednesday," the Los Angeles Times reports. The group, Consumer Watchdog, alleged in a letter to California's attorney general that WellPoint and UnitedHealth pressured "workers to write their elected officials, attend town hall meetings and enlist family and friends to ensure an overhaul that matches their interests."
A UnitedHealth executive said in an internet message to employees that they could contact an "advocacy specialist" in the company's lobbying arm for advice on how to get involved, "including during work hours." An e-mail to WellPoint employees said Congress' proposals would cause private plans to shed "tens of millions" of members. Consumer Watchdog says such messages are legal though "abhorrent" in most states, but expressly forbidden in California. The companies deny the characterization that their messages are coercive, and one outside legal expert called the case "tacky, in the least" (Williams, 9/3).
The San Francisco Chronicle's Politics blog points out that the WellPoint message notes that employees should write to Congress to help "get health reform done -- and done right " The Chronicle offers a translation of done right: "Apparently it does not include a public plan, according to the Wellpointers. That's because a public plan would act as competition to private plans, as proponents say" (Garofoli, 9/2).