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article imageHealth insurers allegedly coerced workers to lobby against reform

By Kay Mathews     Sep 6, 2009 in Crime
Consumer Watchdog alleged in a letter to the California A.G.'s office that UnitedHealth and WellPoint violated the state’s labor codes. The group claims the health insurers used “coercive communications” to urge workers to lobby against reform.
The nation’s two largest health insurers, UnitedHealth and WellPoint, stand accused of pressuring "workers to write their elected officials, attend town hall meetings and enlist family and friends to ensure an overhaul that matches their interests," according to The Los Angeles Times.
Consumer Watchdog made the allegations last week in a letter to California’s attorney general, Jerry Brown. Consumer Watchdog, established in 1985 as The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights [FTCR]), “is a nationally recognized consumer group that has been fighting corrupt corporations and crooked politicians” since its founding.
Consumer Watchdog accuses WellPoint and UnitedHealth of pressuring workers to lobby against healthcare reform, which is a violation of a California law against coerced political activity.
Judy Dugan, Consumer Watchdog research director, told The Los Angeles Times, “While coercive communications with employees may be legal, if abhorrent, in most states, California's labor code appears to directly prohibit them."
The alleged coercion on the part of UnitedHealth took the form of website message posted by Reed Tuckson, the company’s executive vice president and chief of medical affairs. In the message sent to UnitedHealth’s 75,000 employees, Tuckson is reported to have said that “he has ‘strong concerns’ with some of the [healthcare reform] proposals and called for a bipartisan plan – shorthand for heeding Republican opposition to any government-run option.” Workers were encouraged to contact the company’s lobbying group and get involved in the lobbying efforts, even during work hours.
According to The Los Angeles Times, WellPoint’s Anthem Blue Cross unit, which employs 8,000, wrote the following in a company e-mail:
Regrettably, the congressional legislation, as currently passed by four of the five key committees in Congress, does not meet our definition of responsible and sustainable reform. [The proposals would hurt the company by] causing tens of millions of Americans to lose their private coverage and end up in a government-run plan.
Both companies denied any wrongdoing and indicated to The L.A. Times that they were simply providing information to their employees.
A spokeswoman in Attorney General Brown's office, Christine Gasparac, said “the call for an investigation was being reviewed,” The L.A.Times reported.
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