Humana vs. Baucus/CMS

HUMANA VS. BAUCUS/CMS…. Humana, among the nation’s leading private insurers, is not at all pleased that policymakers intend to pay for health care reform by reducing unnecessary spending in Medicare Advantage. Humana, after all, makes an enormous amount of money through the program.

So, the company, which has already spent $1.2 million on lobbying on health care, initiated a new mobilization campaign, contacting its customers with frightening and misleading letters to try to scare them about reform, and creating a website to send form emails to lawmakers. (The emails identify the sender as Medicare Advantage members, whether they are or not.) This came to the attention of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which began investigating Humana’s lobbying efforts.

More importantly, at the request of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the CMS asked Humana to stop the misleading mailings and shut down the form-email website. The agency has authority on the matter, given all the taxpayer money Humana accepts, and the marketing limits Humana accepted as part of the program.

Republicans aren’t happy.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who represents Humana’s home state of Kentucky, and has received tens of thousands of dollars from the company over the years, called the CMS actions a “gag order” — a characterization that has been echoed by House Minority Leader John Boehner and Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) — ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee — who fired off an angry letter to CMS acting administrator Charlene Frizzera.

“In light of CMS’ seemingly uneven and potentially politically-motivated use of its regulatory authority,” Camp writes, “I therefore request that…CMS immediately suspend this virtual gag order on efforts by an MA plan to let its enrollees know how they could be hurt by the health reforms plans being pushed by President.

Just so we’re clear, Republican politicians, some of whom get plenty of money from Humana, are defending an insurer misleading Medicare recipients with taxpayer-subsidized communications.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said he’s only looking out for free-speech rights. “You don’t lose your rights because you happen to sell insurance for heaven’s sake,” he said.

That is, of course, a foolish argument. The government is paying the bills here. Humana accepted lobbying and marketing limits when it started collecting tax dollars. As Ryan Grim noted, “Communication between the private Medicare Advantage providers and beneficiaries is strictly regulated because the private companies are using public dollars.”

Republicans shouldn’t decry the attached strings simply because Humana and the GOP have the same goal — attacking health care reform.

In the meantime, Democrats on the Hill were quick to note the background of the company Republicans were desperate to defend: “Humana was recently featured in a HuffPost story for denying health care due to lack of an enema. In 2005, it settled a racketeering suit for $40 million. It settled a fraud lawsuit in 2000 for $14.5 million. Since 2000, its profits have soared from $90 million to $834 million.”

Republicans often pick the wrong friends, don’t they?