The Los Angeles Times reports this afternoon that the Department of Health and Human Services has begun an investigation into actions taken by health insurer Humana. Did they commit claims fraud with Medicare, or unfairly refuse to provide services? No — they had the temerity to commit the heinous act of free speech with their customers:
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.
The Senate committee that Baucus chairs — Finance — will vote this week on a sweeping health care plan that he’s proposed to expand coverage and try to control costs. It would cut Medicare and Medicaid spending by about $500 billion over 10 years, but Baucus says that would lead to greater efficiency, not reduced benefits.
Well, that’s certainly an arguable point, isn’t it? Just because Baucus says it won’t cut benefits doesn’t make it so. Humana has the right to make its own case to its customers, and they have the responsibility to weigh the facts and determine who is more correct. “Senior” doesn’t mean non compos mentis, after all.
In fact, Humana is one of many firms participating in the Medicare Advantage plan, the private-public partnership which 20% of Medicare enrollees use to better manage their medical care and to cover more of their costs. The Obama administration wants to seriously curtail or end Medicare Advantage — and that’s where a good part of the $500 billion in Medicare cuts originate. That will strip many seniors of their expanded coverage and force them back to Medicare alone, which they spend good money avoiding at the moment.
It seems to me that Humana is rightly and rationally warning these customers that big and unpleasant changes will be coming with ObamaCare in all its various forms at the moment, including the Baucus plan. Only a government afraid of its people and afraid of the truth would turn that kind of communication into a crime. Maybe HHS and the White House should spend a little time re-reading the First Amendment instead of attempting to intimidate people out of the political debate, especially the stakeholders.