Kansas Liberty: 29 September 2009
Health and human services tries to silence company's criticism of Obamacare. Roberts: Seniors have a right to know their Medicare plans will be cut.
Roberts blasts Sebelius gag order on Humana
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, under the direction of the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, has ordered Humana, a private health benefit company, to stop disseminating information critical of President Barack Obama’s health reform plans.
Humana had warned its members that their Medicare Advantage benefits might be slashed as part of the changes proposed under the health-care plan being discussed in Washington. Democrats have planned to cut Medicare funds by about $550 billion over the next 10 years to help finance their plans.
The price tag on health care reform legislation hovers around $1 trillion.
Senate Republican leadership has threatened to stall any of Sebelius’ political appointees until she withdraws her order silencing Humana. There are 10 health positions that need to be filled.
“America’s seniors and the health plans that serve them deserve to have their free speech rights respected,” the Senate Republican statement said. Senate Republican leadership also pointed out that health and human services previously followed established guidelines that allow health organizations to provide their members with any information regarding legislation that could affect them.
The precedent determined that stifling this communication “would violate basic freedom of speech and other constitutional rights of the Medicare beneficiary as a citizen.” Since reform-leading Obama took office, this precedent has apparently been overturned.
“Now, the Obama administration has reversed this longstanding HHS decision — in the midst of a critical debate about the future of health care services in our country — to shut down communication between private companies and America’s seniors on an issue that has a direct impact on their health care,” Senate Republicans said.
“Your department has done this by imposing an industry-wide gag order without apparent justification or basis in law, contradicting your past public guidance and the plain language and spirit of the First Amendment, among the most sacred tenets of our democracy,” Senate Republicans continued.
Spokespersons at health and human services said the gag order is for the benefit of Medicare recipients, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services justified the decision by saying “we are concerned that, among other things, the information in the letter is misleading and confusing to beneficiaries.”
Opponents, as well as proponents, of health-care reform have regularly been contacting residents, and legislators. Kansas residents reported receiving calls from the American Cancer Society’s advocacy affiliate, which urged them to contact their legislator and ask them to support reform. The Kansas delegation, with the exception of Democrat Rep. Dennis Moore, has spoken out against reform plans.
The Humana gag order came up as a topic of discussion during the Senate Finance Committee’s markup of a health care proposal from committee chair Max Baucus, D-Mont. The argument centered on whether Humana had the right to disseminate information critical of reform to its members, regardless of whether the information was accurate.
“You have a right to be wrong,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. “It doesn't make any difference. You have certainly freedom of speech. Let me just point out that under the Senate finance mark, private Medicare plans known as Medicare Advantage will receive $124.5 billion cut, 2.7 million seniors will lose their Medicare plan by 2019.”
Rep. Bob Bethell, R-Alden, and chair of the House Aging and Long-Term Care Committee, said he was confused by the Democrats’ plans to pull money from Medicare, given the common belief that the government should protect the very young, the elderly and the ill.
“It seems strange to me that we would have a government entity trying to do just the opposite of that by saying we will give care to certain people and not to others so we can broaden the entire process,” Bethell told Kansas Liberty.
Bethell was also miffed by the gag order.
“This is a country built on freedom of speech, so I do not think that is an appropriate process either,” he said.
- Holly Smith
Letter to Sebelius from Senate Republican leadership: http://enzi.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=NewsRoom.NewsReleases
CMS statement to Humana: http://www.cms.hhs.gov/apps/media/press/release.asp?Counter=3522