Wednesday, September 23, 2009

McConnell Disputes Baucus' Gag Order

After numerous complaints about the Democrats rushing through health care legislation without adequate debate or explanation, a new complaint arises about Senator Baucus using his position to restrain companies (Humana in particular) from providing customers with information about the Senate Health Care Bill.

From the Wall Street Journal - Baucus Bludgeons Humana

Earlier this month, Humana sent a one-page letter to its customers enrolled in its Medicare Advantage plans, which offer private options to Medicare beneficiaries. Humana noted that, because of spending cuts proposed by Democrats, "millions of seniors and disabled individuals could lose many of the important benefits and services that make Medicare Advantage health plans so valuable." The Kentucky-based company also urged its customers to contact their Representatives. Pretty tame stuff, as these things go.

Mr. Baucus took it as a declaration of war. He complained to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal health-care agency, which on Friday duly ordered Humana to cease and desist. CMS claimed the mailer was "misleading and confusing" and told the company it has opened an official probe as to whether the mailer violated laws about how the insurers that manage Advantage plans are allowed to communicate with their customers, as well as other federal statutes.

"Please be advised that we take this matter very seriously and, based upon the findings our investigation, will pursue compliance and enforcement actions," CMS concluded, ominously. Humana could be fined or booted from Medicare Advantage altogether.

"It is wholly inappropriate 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," Mr. Baucus said in a statement yesterday, playing the role of Congressional censor. "The health-care reform bill we released last week strengthens Medicare and does not cut benefits covered under the Medicare program—and seniors need to know that."

In fact, the Baucus draft legislation slashes $123 billion over the next decade from Medicare Advantage, which Democrats hate despite the fact that almost one-fourth of beneficiaries have chosen it over traditional fee-for-service Medicare. One reason seniors like it is because private insurers focus on quality and preventive care and try to manage benefits, as opposed to simply paying bills.

This did not go unnoticed by Senator Mitch McConnell who was uncharacteristically angry over the this impingement on Humana...

From ABC Blog "Shut Up! The Government Says" - McConnell on Humana Letter
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell does not normally get riled up, but he just gave an impassioned speech on the Senate floor about the gag order, Humana, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, who initiated the HHS investigation. McConnell referred to Baucus only as “a colleague.”

“Using the full weight of the federal government’s enforcement powers to stifle free speech should trouble all Americans — and all of us — even more,” McConnell said. “We cannot allow government officials to target individuals or companies because they do not like what they have to say.”

“Shut up! the government says,” said McConnell on the Senate floor of the CMS letter to Humana. “Don’t communicate with your customers. Be quiet and get in line,” he said facetiously.

There are two points to remember here. Humana is based in Kentucky, so McConnell is quick to protect them. And second, he is a staunch defender of the first amendment. For instance, McConnell is the often the only Republican to vote against a flag burning amendment when it periodically arises.

Dems Heavy Handed on Heath Care

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