Shut Up, He Explained

You may have heard about it, but if not, here's the WSJ's editorial summary:

Political intimidation has always been part of the current Congress's health-care strategy: "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu" is tattooed on every lobbyist and industry rep in Washington. But Max Baucus's latest bullying tactics are hard to believe by even these standards, as the Senate Finance Chairman has sicced federal regulators on the insurer Humana Inc. for daring to criticize one part of his health bill.
Humana's specific sin was to engage in free speech to its Medicare Advantage customers, a mass mailing letting them know how much the various Democratic health care bills plan to squeeze out of their program, encouraging them to contact their representatives.

Senator Baucus intimated that Humana's mailing was an example of "scare tactics" aimed to "mislead" its customers. And he set the hounds upon Humana, in the form of the Federal agency known as the "Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services" (CMS); it obediently ordered Humana to "cease and desist", and notified that an investigation was being opened with the possibilty of "compliance and enforcement actions." (Baucus posted the CMS letter here (PDF) and his accompanying press release is here (also PDF).)

This all made me wonder: what was actually in the Humana letter that got Baucus and CMS all censorious? I turned it up at, of all places, the Huffington Post. You can view the mailing here (PDF) and even the envelope it came in here (PDF). The HuffPoster, Dawn Teo, is (like Baucus) extremely exercised about it, claiming that recipients were "alarmed and confused" by Humana's "scare tactics". In a later post, she called it part of a "massive misinformation campaign."

But fortunately, Ms. Teo was honest enough to post the actual mailing, allowing you and I to make our own call on the matter.

And here's my call: (a) the letter clearly was sent only to Medicare Advantage participants; (b) the key paragraph is:

Leading health reform proposals being considered in Washington, D.C., this summer include billions in Medicare Advantage funding cuts, as well as spending reductions to original Medicare and Medicaid. While these programs need to be made more efficient, if the proposed funding cut levels become law, millions of seniors and disabled individuals could lose many of the important benefits and services that make Medicare Advantage health plans so valuable.
(emphasis in original); and (c) Humana's description is absolutely true. Back to the WSJ:
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.
The irony is that Humana has been generally supportive of ObamaCare; and why not, its envisioned mandates promise to deliver many more involuntary customers into Humana's fold. But even the smallest dissent threatens to bring the whole thing down; hence the "shut up" tactics.

As we've seen, Democats "debating" strategy on ObamaCare is to marginalize as many opponents as they can as racist and un-American. Where that's impossible, as with Humana, their first instinct is to reach for excuses in order to quash the inconvenient speech. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey could have told them about the "progressive" devotion to free speech on this topic.

I like what Captain Ed has to say on the topic:

It seems to me that Humana is rightly and rationally warning these customers that big and unpleasant changes will be coming with ObamaCare in all its various forms at the moment, including the Baucus plan. Only a government afraid of its people and afraid of the truth would turn that kind of communication into a crime. Maybe HHS and the White House should spend a little time re-reading the First Amendment instead of attempting to intimidate people out of the political debate, especially the stakeholders.
But, as David Henderson points out, it's not as if we haven't been warned about this sort of thing:
For years, various commentators have said that Friedrich Hayek, in The Road to Serfdom and Milton Friedman, in Capitalism and Freedom exaggerated the dangers to freedom of speech from government control. But also for years, drug companies have feared criticizing the FDA because the FDA has so much discretionary control over their economic livelihoods. Now HHS has upped the ante. Will the defenders of freedom of speech step up to defend Humana's rights, as opposed to Humana's statements. How many people will there be who disagree with what Humana said, but who defend (I don't even need "to the death"--I'll settle for a letter and postage stamp) their right to say it?
I've added the Amazon links to Henderson's comment; if you don't have those books already, you might want to snap them up before they're prohibited for their un-American scare-mongering and misinformation.

Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:22 PM EST