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Consumer Watchdog Says Insurers Must Answer Questions About Use of Employees as Mini-Lobbyists in Congress
Date:9/17/2009

Practice Abuses Employees, Further Clogs Foot-Dragging Bureaucracy and Misuses Customers Premium Dollars, Says Group

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As the House Subcommittee on Domestic Policy reconvenes hearings today on the bureaucratic abuse of insured patients by for-profit insurance companies, Consumer Watchdog called on the nation's two largest insurers to answer questions about their use of employees to lobby Congress on company time.

"There is no question that insurance companies use bureaucratic maneuvers to delay and deny care to people who thought they were insured," said Jerry Flanagan, health policy director of Consumer Watchdog. "Less visible is their waste and misuse of customer's premium dollars by using employees to lobby Congress on company time, with the guidance of paid PR professionals."

Consumer Watchdog has urged California Attorney General Jerry Brown to investigate employee programs by United Healthcare and Anthem/Wellpoint on the grounds that they constitute illegal political pressure. California has stronger laws against such employee coercion than other states. (See the story and the letter to Atty. Gen. Brown at: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/patients/articles/?storyId=29186).

More pertinent to the committee hearings today, called by subcommittee chair Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is that the lobbying is at the cost of servicing customer claims, and paid for out of customers' pockets, said Consumer Watchdog.

Of the United HealthCare lobbying program, Consumer Watchdog calls on the insurer to answer:

"Your bureaucracy consumes a high percentage of our premium dollars. We have seen reports that your company has a special public relations unit tasked with getting United Health employees to lobby Congress on company time with paid company assistance. Employee hours spent on this effort were employee hours not spent on customer issues. This consumption of employee time necessarily leads to even more delays of treatment approvals and is a perverted use of premium dollars that perpetuates customer abuses. What has been the cost of this lobbying project during business hours and how many employee hours have been lost to it?"

The question Consumer Watchdog calls on Anthem/Wellpoint to answer is:

"You developed a similar program to create a fake grassroots employee lobbying force, also presumably on company time. Your employees were specifically urged to oppose a public option to the private insurance market. Yet only a public option has a chance of reducing your bureaucratic waste by forcing WellPoint to compete against a low-overhead alternative. What has been the cost of this lobbying project and why would your customers not consider this the ultimate bureaucratic waste of their premium dollars?"

"Both companies strongly oppose a voluntary, Medicare-style option to which Americans can turn if they are can't get insurance, or are dissatisfied with the insurance they have," said Carmen Balber, director of Consumer Watchdog's Washington office. "Their employee lobbying, on company time and at customers' expense, is meant to prevent any competition that would force them to treat patients more fairly."

Consumer Watchdog is a nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and Santa Monica, CA. Find us on the web at: http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org


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SOURCE Consumer Watchdog
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