UnitedHealth Group, the nation’s largest health insurance carrier, is urging employees to tell supervisors if they will attend an online seminar on health-care reform hosted by the company’s top Washington lobbyist, according to an internal company e-mail sent to employees Wednesday morning.
The e-mail asking employees to participate in a Dec. 15 "webinar" with UnitedHealth lobbyist Judah C. Sommer is the latest example of efforts by insurers and other companies to enlist support from employees in this year’s health-care debate. Pro-reform groups attack such efforts as coercion and say the tactic may run afoul of legal restrictions in some states.
The newest e-mail was sent from United for Health Reform, an arm of the Minnesota-based insurer, and was obtained by the pro-reform group Consumer Watchdog. The message says that "participation is voluntary" and that UnitedHealth employees "may express any personal position or opinion" during the seminar.
But the message also instructs employees to "please confirm your ability to attend with your supervisor." Judy Dugan, Consumer Watchdog’s research director, called the e-mail "pure poitical harrassement of workers" and said the confirmation request "makes a joke of the disclaimer at the end that participation is ‘voluntary’."
A UnitedHealth spokesman was not immediately available for comment, but the company has defended its past efforts to get employees involved in the political process.
Consumer Watchdog made similar complaints about an e-mail in November urging UnitedHealth’s 75,000 employees to lobby Congress against Democratic reform proposals. Other companies including WellPoint and Cigna have also come under fire for allegedly pressuring employees to take sides in the political debate.