Political intimidation has always been part of the current Congress's health-care strategy: "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu" is tattooed on every lobbyist and industry rep in Washington. But Max Baucus's latest bullying tactics are hard to believe by even these standards, as the Senate Finance Chairman has sicced federal regulators on the insurer Humana Inc. for daring to criticize one part of his health bill.
Earlier this month, Humana sent a one-page letter to its customers enrolled in its Medicare Advantage plans, which offer private options to Medicare beneficiaries. Humana noted that, because of spending cuts proposed by Democrats, "millions of seniors and disabled individuals could lose many of the important benefits and services that make Medicare Advantage health plans so valuable." The Kentucky-based company also urged its customers to contact their Representatives. Pretty tame stuff, as these things go.
Mr. Baucus took it as a declaration of war. He complained to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal health-care agency, which on Friday duly ordered Humana to cease and desist. CMS claimed the mailer was "misleading and confusing" and told the company it has opened an official probe as to whether the mailer violated laws about how the insurers that manage Advantage plans are allowed to communicate with their customers, as well as other federal.
Try to imagine what's happening here. A private company is making a private correspondence to its own customers. That correspondence isn't very favorable to the health care proposal that the party in power is pushing. So, that party files a cease and desist order and begins an investigation into the flier.
Now, let's put this into perspective. There's all sorts of regulations governing advertising. You aren't allowed to lie or to mislead. That's to keep someone from claiming that their product does something they know it doesn't do. For the most part, these rules are rooted in some sensibility.
This advertisement wasn't even about the company's product. The flier was about a piece of legislation that would affect the company. The company was making a point of policy. It was a point unfavorable to the administration. So, the administration threatens to sue. Ironically enough, the CBO, not a week later, made the exact same point. So, the so called "lie" is the exact same point the CBO is making. Since the Dems can't muzzle the CBO, they are trying to muzzle Humana.
What's really troubling is that this is the latest incident of thug politics. Back in August, Henry Waxman asked the major insurance for numerous financial documents. It was never clear what he was investigating and whatever investigation there was has gone nowhere so far. This was simply a tool of intimidation. Obama had gotten most all special interests: the drug companies, the AMA, the AARP, the nurses, on board with health care reform. The insurance companies were resisting and so in stepped Henry Waxman to intimidate them into capitulating.
In May, the administration, according to bankruptcy attorney Tom Lauria, threatened creditors of GM and Chrysler that didn't get on board with their auto bailout with having the media smear them. Later on, the administration referred to Lauria as a "terrorist".
Then, there's the case of Gerald Walpin. He was the Inspector General of Americorp that uncovered information negative toward Kevin Johnson, an ally of Obama. Walpin was summarily fired and it was hinted that he's senile.
Jon Kyl referred to the latest reincarnation of thug politics as Chicago politics. There's no doubt about that. If you write a negative story about Mayor Daley, no one in the city council or city hall will ever speak to you again. If any alderman crosses Daley, the streets aren't swept, the garbage isn't picked up, and the cops don't show up in their ward. That's how it works in Chicago. That's thug politics. Now, that thug politics has filtered into D.C. and anyone that challenges the administration and its allies had better expect to be retaliated against.