United Healthcare Urges Employees to Oppose Public Option and Cost Reforms, Demand Larger Tax Penalties On Consumers Who Don’t Buy Private Insurance
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The nation’s largest health insurance company, United Healthcare, launched a new push this week to get employees to directly lobby U.S. Senators for weaker health reform and higher insurer profits. The new campaign, in an e-mail sent to all employees Nov. 10, offers employees template letters to send from company computers on company time and urges them to write grassroots-style letters to the editor to local newspapers. Consumer Watchdog, which obtained the letters, called on the Senate and newspapers to reject this deceptive corporate-directed campaign.
(See the letters and company instructions for letters to the editor at end of news release or by clicking here.)
The form letters call on the Senate to resist any publicly financed health care option, prevent financial reform of bloated payments to private Medicare Advantage insurance plans and enact tougher penalties on Americans who fail to buy private insurance.
The instructions for writing a local letter to the editor do not suggest that employees identify themselves as UHC employees, only that they “share their unique perspective.”
Health insurer Cigna also sent out a companywide e-mail urging employees to contact lawmakers. Its talking points remain behind an internal e-mail barrier. (See Cigna excerpts below.)
This is United Healthcare’s second major push to persuade employees to lobby on behalf of the company. Consumer Watchdog protested the first campaign in September as undue and possibly illegal political pressure on employees. The company’s new campaign states more strongly that the lobbying campaign is voluntary. However, the company has access to email sent by employees, and it explicitly tells employees to “share a copy with us” of any letters to the editor. The company is likely tracking employee responses to the internal email request, said Consumer Watchdog.
The message sent to all employees also says: “It is important that we, as members of the health care industry and as individuals, make our voices heard on this important issue. Therefore, we encourage you to actively participate in this debate as both industry voices as well as individuals. Please take action by writing a letter to your elected officials in Washington.”
Consumer Watchdog said the request is intimidating.
“No United HealthCare employee would modify the lobbying letter to favor Medicare-for-All, or even a modest public option, knowing that his or her managers may be reading that e-mail,” said Judy Dugan, research director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Consumer Watchdog. “They wouldn’t dare to speak against the company position unless they’ve already got a new job lined up.”
Here are selected excerpts from the United HealthCare employee lobbying letters:
1. “Medicare Advantage is working well for 11 million Medicare recipients — and more seniors are choosing MA to manage their health care needs every year. As you consider comprehensive health care reform, I urge you to build upon what is currently working in the Medicare system and not limit the ability of seniors to access the program. Please preserve MA funding levels and enrollment opportunities so that seniors who like their current coverage can keep it.”
2. "I am concerned that the health care reform bills currently being considered by Congress will not effectively ensure affordable and sustainable health care options for all Americans. Government-run health care will result in millions of Americans not being able to keep their current coverage and will lead to unintended consequences of higher premiums and less choice.”
3. “While I am writing to you as an individual, and the opinion I express is my own, I work at UnitedHealth Group, a company that has proposed market reforms that will guarantee quality, affordable and portable coverage for all, regardless of gender, health status, or pre-existing conditions. However, as we have learned from experiences in various states, in order for these market reforms to be successful, they must be accompanied by an effective personal coverage requirement.”
Consumer Watchdog said that the statement that “millions of Americans” will lose their current coverage is the opposite of the current bills’ specific assurance that anyone may keep their current insurance. In excerpt. No. 3, the phrase “an effective personal coverage requirement” refers to insurance company lobbying demands for higher IRS tax penalties than the current bills contain against individuals who do not buy insurance policies under health reform. The letters below also quote a Congressional Budget office statement about reform costs wildly out of context.
Click here to see the original CBO letter on premium costs to which the quote refers.
The House of Representatives health reform bill passed last weekend contains a modest public health insurance option only for individuals and small businesses. The chief Senate bill, from the Finance Committee, does not allow a public option. Both bills seek to control overpayments to Medicare Advantage plans that average 14.5% more than the cost of caring for regular Medicare recipients.
Cigna’s message to employees said:
“We believe that while the House bill expands access to health insurance, it does not focus on controlling costs and improving the quality of health care delivered – both key elements to sustainable reform. Although the industry advocated for provisions that would have improved H.R. 3962, the final legislative language took a form that would not ultimately achieve these goals.
“[W]e have a request of you. We ask that you act as emissaries for our company and reach out to your elected officials to educate them on the work you do every day. Tell them about the role you play in bringing high-quality health services to millions of Americans, and that we as a Company share their goals and aspirations for a better, stronger health care system.
“Be assured that the debate will remain contentious and the rhetoric may be extreme at times. We will do all that we can to keep you informed of developments and of the positions for which CIGNA is constructively advocating.”
Such employee lobbying comes at the expense of its customers, said Consumer Watchdog.
“Employees will again be spending company time and resources to respond to the lobbying request,” said Dugan. “United HealthCare’s customers should understand that this employee lobbying is funded by their ever-rising health insurance premiums.”
Click here to see the Washington Post story.
Click here to see Consumer Watchdog’s previous news release and attached documents on employee lobbying.
Click here to see the Los Angeles Times news story.
The previous employee lobbying actions of WellPoint and United HealthCare are still under investigation by the California Attorney General’s office, though hampered by the office’s inability to keep employee complainant’s names confidential, said Consumer Watchdog.
United HealthCare Nov. 10 Documents
United HealthCare’s e-mail to employees (links to letters are behind an employee password barrier. They are posted in clear text below. Typography is preserved to the extent possible.):
From: United for Health Reform Update
Sent: Nov 10, 2009 2:30 PM
Subject: Write Your Senators!
United for Health Reform
This past Saturday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, and in the coming weeks the Senate will be debating its version of the health reform bill. We are at a pivotal time for the ultimate direction of health care reform, and your Senators want to hear from you, as individuals and health care experts.
Write your Member of Congress
Please take action by writing a letter to your elected officials in Washington. Visit the United for Health Reform "Write Lawmakers" website for template letters to send to your Members of Congress. Feel free to edit the letters to better share your own viewpoint.
Please visit www.unitedforhealthreform.com to find out more about ways to get involved. If you are logging in to the United for Health Reform website for the first time, click here to input your work email address to retrieve your password. Your password will be emailed to you immediately.
Please note that all activity is voluntary and you may express any position you may have. While we look forward to your participation in this important debate, we remind you that you are communicating your unique messages and personal perspective as individuals, not on behalf of the company. Also, consistent with UnitedHealth Group’s mission and values, we once again emphasize that your participation should be collegial, collaborative, and respectful of the process of informed discourse.
Thank you for your continued participation in the United for Health Reform effort!
Preface to Form Letters to Senators:
Write Lawmakers — Support Comprehensive Health Care Modernization
Congress is currently considering a variety of approaches to reforming America’s health care system that will have a profound impact on how:
• Americans access health care,
• The quality of the care they receive,
• And how it is paid for.
Our mission is to help people lead healthier lives, and we have been at the forefront of health care modernization for more than a decade on behalf of patients, physicians, consumers and our customers. While we strongly support the need for changes in the system to make health care work better, these changes are likely to affect our lives more directly than many other Americans. As progress toward health care reform accelerates this summer and the President and Congress seek to advance specific legislation, now is the time for action.
It is important that we, as members of the health care industry and as individuals, make our voices heard on this important issue. Therefore, we encourage you to actively participate in this debate as both industry voices as well as individuals. Please take action by writing a letter to your elected officials in Washington.
Your participation is completely voluntary and you may express any opinion you may have. You should feel free to identify yourself as an employee of UnitedHealth Group, but you need to be clear you are speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the company.
Form Letter No. 1 to Senators (Medicare Advantage funding):
PART D TEXT – OPTION 1
I am writing today to urge you to protect seniors from cuts in their Medicare Advantage benefits.
While I am contacting you as an individual, I am also an employee of UnitedHealth Group. My company and others like it have been innovators in developing best practices that make care more affordable and improve quality. This includes developing Medicare Advantage (MA) plans for Medicare recipients that save seniors money and guaranty access to MA’s expanded and affordable benefits regardless of pre-existing conditions or health status.
Medicare Advantage was created by Congress to offer seniors a comprehensive range of benefits that focus on primary care and preventive medicine. Seniors who participate in this program overwhelmingly express satisfaction with their MA plans, which outperform traditional Medicare fee-for-service in numerous health care quality measures.
At a time when managing rising health care costs are a bigger issue for seniors than ever before, MA plans are a vital source of affordable, predictable medical coverage for more than 11 million Medicare beneficiaries — about half of whom live on less than $20,000 a year. Compared with traditional fee-for-service Medicare, MA offers its recipients lower co-payments and protection from the high costs of catastrophic health events.
Medicare Advantage is working well for 11 million Medicare recipients — and more seniors are choosing MA to manage their health care needs every year. As you consider comprehensive health care reform, I urge you to build upon what is currently working in the Medicare system and not limit the ability of seniors to access the program. Please preserve MA funding levels and enrollment opportunities so that seniors who like their current coverage can keep it.
Form Letter No. 2 to Senators (No public option, tougher consumer penalties):
HEALTHCARE TEXT – OPTION 2
As a member of the health care community, I am writing to urge you to support comprehensive health care reform that brings everyone into the system, protects families who are already insured, and keeps coverage affordable, stable, and accessible for all.
I am concerned that the health care reform bills currently being considered by Congress will not effectively ensure affordable and sustainable health care options for all Americans. Government-run health care will result in millions of Americans not being able to keep their current coverage and will lead to unintended consequences of higher premiums and less choice. In addition, I am disturbed by proposed legislation that will lead to increased taxes, less affordable coverage, and reduced benefits. Recent analysis from economists and experts has shown that these bills will lead to increased health care costs and premiums for most Americans. When testifying before the Finance Committee on the impact of these increased taxes recently, the Director of the independent, nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said, "Our judgment is that that piece of the legislation would raise insurance premiums by roughly the amount of the money collected."
As many have said, now is the time for health care reform, and I believe that there is a way to effectively modernize the system. While I am writing to you as an individual, and the opinion I express is my own, I work at UnitedHealth Group, a company that has proposed market reforms that will guarantee quality, affordable and portable coverage for all, regardless of gender, health status, or pre-existing conditions. However, as we have learned from experiences in various states, in order for these market reforms to be successful, they must be accompanied by an effective personal coverage requirement.
The 75,000 men and women of UnitedHealth Group are committed to health care modernization, and, as your constituent, I urge you to oppose tax increases, benefit cuts, and government-run health care. Instead, I strongly urge you to support bipartisan health care reform legislation that improves quality, reduces costs, and expands coverage.
Write a letter to the editor
Letters to the Editor are one of the most widely read sections of the newspaper and reach a large audience. They allow community members to comment on the way issues are being addressed in the media and to influence what topics the local paper covers. Elected officials often monitor this section of the newspaper and take notice of constituents’ opinions.
Please refer to Write Lawmakers for template letters that address some of our key concerns regarding health care reform.
The address to which letters should be sent usually is printed in your newspaper. You can also find it by clicking this link.
Tips on Writing Letters to the Editor
• Keep it brief. A short letter will run in its entirety, where as a longer letter may be edited or not run at all. Keep it short, 250 words or less to maximize your impact.
• Make specific references. While some newspapers will print general commentary letters, most prefer letters that respond to a specific article. Be factual and highlight aspects of the issue that haven’t been previously addressed.
• Include your contact information. Many newspapers will only publish a letter to the editor after verifying the author’s contact information. When printed, the letter will usually only include your name and city.
• Type your letter and sign it.
• Don’t write every week. Many newspapers have rules limiting the number of letter writers to a few appearances each year, and you will wear out your welcome if you write too frequently.
• Share your unique perspective. As a leader in the health care industry, write about your perspectives and experiences.
• Share a copy of your letter with us.(emphasis added) We appreciate your efforts in furthering the health reform dialogue with your community and encourage you to send a copy of your completed letter to the editor to us at [email protected].
Please note that all activity is voluntary, and you may express any opinion you may have. While we look forward to your participation in this important debate, we remind you that you are communicating as individuals, not on behalf of the company, with unique messages and personal perspective. Also, as is consistent with UnitedHealth Group’s mission and values, we once again emphasize that your participation should be collegial, collaborative, and respectful of the process of informed discourse.
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