Insurer Enlists Employees to Fight Health Reform

Published on
by
The Washington Post

Insurer Enlists Employees to Fight Health Reform

Consumer group accuses UnitedHealth of intimidating workers

by
Dan Eggen

Activists join a nationwide rally in support of health care reforms in Miami, Florida. (AFP/Getty Images/File/Joe Raedle)

The nation's largest health insurance carrier is urging its employees to lobby the Senate against reform proposals that would hurt the firm's bottom line, according to copies of e-mails released Thursday by a liberal advocacy group.

UnitedHealth Group, which is based in Minnesota, e-mailed its 75,000 employees Tuesday, asking them to write their senators and local newspapers in opposition to a public insurance option, alleging that "government-run health care" will force "millions of Americans" to drop their current coverage.

Proposed form letters from the company also lay out opposition to cuts in the costly Medicare Advantage program and advocate higher financial penalties for individuals who do not buy health insurance. The e-mail was sent by United for Health Reform, the name of the company's lobbying arm; the subject line read: "Write Your Senators!"

Consumer Watchdog, the California-based advocacy group that obtained the documents, says the letters are full of misleading GOP talking points, such as the claim that millions will lose coverage. The group also says the campaign amounts to intimidation of employees of UnitedHealth Group and its main operating division, UnitedHealthcare.

"No UnitedHealthcare 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, Consumer Watchdog's research director. "They wouldn't dare to speak against the company position unless they've already got a new job lined up."

UnitedHealth officials strongly disputed the intimidation allegation, noting that the e-mail called the letter-writing campaign "completely voluntary."

"We are proud of the skills and passion our 75,000 employees bring to their jobs helping improve health care every day, and that many of them are interested in sharing their informed perspectives constructively and respectfully in the health reform debate," said UnitedHealth spokesman John Parker.

The campaign is the latest in a series of attempts by major insurers to enlist company employees as political advocates in the Washington debate over health reform, and many Republicans argue that Democrats do the same through e-mail and letter campaigns organized by trade unions. Consumer Watchdog filed complaints earlier this year against UnitedHealth and WellPoint, another top insurance conglomerate, for allegedly pressuring employees to lobby against health reform in violation of California law.

At another major insurer, Indianapolis-based Cigna, two executives sent a staff e-mail Wednesday criticizing the health reform package approved in the House last weekend and urging Cigna employees "to act as emissaries for our company and reach out to your elected officials to educate them."

The e-mail, which was also obtained by Consumer Watchdog, included a link to an internal company Web site called "Talking Politics."

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