KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Medicare Probes Humana’s Letter To Patients About Effects Of Health Reform

Medicare launches a probe of the Humana insurance company over letters it sent to patients about health care reform.

Reuters reports: "U.S. health officials are investigating whether Humana Inc. used so-called 'scare tactics' when contacting its Medicare Advantage health insurance plan customers and warning them about pending health reform legislation, according to a letter released on Monday.

"The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which oversees the Medicare program for the elderly and disabled as well as privately-run Medicare Advantage options, ordered Humana to halt all related outreach until the agency concluded its investigation. CMS said Humana's letter alleges 'that current health care reform legislation affecting Medicare could hurt "millions of seniors and disabled individuals who could lose many of the important benefits and services that make Medicare advantage health plans so valuable."' The letter could violate federal regulations, it added" (Heavey, 9/21).

The Los Angeles Times/Associated Press report that CMS sent a "letter to all companies that sell private Medicare coverage and stand-alone drug plans to seniors" to warn them they could face legal sanctions if they try to alarm seniors about reform proposals. The article also said CMS "launched an investigation of Humana Inc. after getting a complaint from Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), a lawmaker usually viewed as a reliable ally of the insurance industry. Baucus also put together the Senate Finance Committee's version of the healthcare bill. Humana is cooperating with the investigation and stopped the mailer this month, the company said Monday" (9/22).

CBS News reports Baucus as saying: "'It is wholly unacceptable for insurance companies to mislead seniors regarding any subject – particularly on a subject as important to them, and to the nation, as health care reform. ... From lower prescription drug costs to free preventive care to better treatment for chronic conditions, seniors have so much to gain from health reform and I'm not going to let insurance company profits stand in the way of improving Medicare for seniors.' ... The proposed legislation would cut Medicare and Medicaid spending by about $500 billion over 10 years, but Baucus and President Obama contend that money will come from cutting waste and fraud currently bloating the programs -- not from cutting benefits" (Condon, 9/21).

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