Thursday, May 28, 2009

Inside the insurance industry's astroturf ampaign to save the Medicare Advantage scam

Back in 2003 Congress passed the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA). Basically, what the MMA did was expand the availability and use of Medicare Advantage -- which is privately-administered Medicare. At the same time, they passed Medicare Part D -- a prescription drug benefit which basically threw billions of dollars at the big pharmaceutical industries with few strings attached.

As a result, there was a huge windfall to the for-profit health insurance and drug industries. They got literally hundreds of billions of dollars in extra profits from the move.

It was touted by its advocates as this great program that would expand Medicare competition, thus lowering costs. Of course, anyone who understands health insurance knows this isn't true. For-profit insurance is wasteful, in that it throws money at useless things -- profit, advertising, stock options, CEO pay, and the bureaucracy needed to deny people coverage.

The industry paid well to get it through Congress. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-HMO), made the vote the longest in congressional history, and in the end, he left Congress soon after the vote to work for the drug industry's largest lobbying group.

Sure enough, Medicare Advantage ended up being a gigantic failure. According to Government Accountability Office numbers, in 2006 Medicare ended up paying $7.1 billion more for coverage through Medicare Advantage than it would have through traditional plans (and there was no real increase in quality, either).

One of the areas, actually probably the only key area, where Obama really gets it on healthcare is about the danger of outsourcing public health insurance to private industries. In fact, he has proposed eliminating Medicare Advantage, which is something that has made progressive advocates on healthcare stand up and cheer.

But the health industry is fighting back to keep their wasteful and inefficient plans around.

They've set up an astroturf operation at The Coalition for Medicare Choices. Scattered around the website are testimonials from supposedly concerned citizens with, of course, no link to the big industries that benefit from Medicare Advantage.

Of course, thousands of ordinary citizens don't just get together and put up multi-million dollar PR campaigns for big industries. Here's a tip from a veteran joiner of coalition websites: if you don't see a big "DONATE" button somewhere, it's probably not a real grassroots coalition.

The Center for Media and Democracy reports:

As the Center for Media and Democracy reported previously, the Dewey Square Group lobbying firm is sending newspapers fake letters to the editor. The letters promote Medicare Advantage, a private health insurance plan, and are sent in the name of local seniors. The Eagle-Tribune paper was tipped off when Noah, really "an intern at the Boston office of the Dewey Square Group," called about one of the letters, claiming he was the letter writer's grandson. But the woman whose name was on the letter doesn't have a grandson named Noah, and didn't send the letter. Dewey Square is sending the Astroturf letters "under the banner of 'The Coalition for Medicare Choices,'" and also "bringing seniors to 'Medicare Advantage Community Meetings,' featuring 'free food' and 'door prizes,' with congressmen and senators, and offering them sample letters to Congress or local newspapers." Dewey Square's Mary Anne Marsh claimed, "no one's trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes." Instead, she suggested that "the time that elapsed between the meetings when the seniors saw the letters and the letters' arrival at the newspaper may have clouded some memories." The campaign comes after Democratic proposals, backed by President Obama, to cut funding to Medicare Advantage and use "the savings to expand health care coverage for all."

It's just another astroturf campaign being run by powerful corporations pretending that they just represent all the little people and concern trolling about how the people, like the President, who rightfully point out that Medicare Advantage is a scam, are actually out to get seniors.

Please. Let's not fall for this one.