Zack asked this question earlier, and we’re still waiting for an official answer, but news stories from back in April strongly suggest that Humana wasn’t the only insurance company enlisting seniors (legitimately and otherwise) to lobby against changes to Medicare Advantage. In fact, the problem may have been industry-wide.
Here’s an April 13 story from the Eagle Tribune in Massachusetts:
Across Massachusetts, senior citizens are writing letters to newspapers demanding that their representatives in Congress protect a form of health insurance called Medicare Advantage.
At least that’s what newspaper editors are supposed to think.
Some of those seniors are unaware that they have sent any such letters to newspapers. Some of them hadn’t even heard of Medicare Advantage.
“I did not write a letter to the editor. It’s not from me,” said Gloria Gosselin, 75, of Lawrence.
Gosselin’s name was on one of three strikingly similar letters touting the Medicare Advantage program that were sent to The Eagle-Tribune.
Who was behind those letters? According to a different April story in Congressional Quarterly it was a lobbying firm hired health insurance industry professional association AHIP.
“A lobby firm hired by America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade association, sent letters to newspapers in Massachusetts, purportedly written by seniors, in support of Medicare Advantage. But when the Eagle-Tribune, of North Andover, called three of the supposed correspondents, all of them said they had not written the letters. Some didn’t know what Medicare Advantage is.”
An intern working for the Dewey Square Group, the Democratic-aligned lobby firm behind the letter campaign, sparked the Eagle-Tribune’s interest in the story when he called the paper to see if one of the letters had been published and identified himself as a grandchild of the author.
We’ll try to get you some more details about this.
Late Update: Asked by TPMmuckraker about reports that Congress had asked Dewy Square and AHIP for documents in connection to the episode, a spokeswoman for Dewey Square responds:
Several weeks ago Dewey Square produced documents to the committee conclusively demonstrating that every letter sent by DSG to a newspaper or Member of Congress was a letter that had actually been signed by the individual. We have received no further requests or communications from the committee since that time.
Neither AHIP nor the office of Rep. Henry Waxman, who is reported to have asked for the documents, responded immediately to calls from TPMmuckraker.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.