Humana's Claims Bring New Chapter to HC Debate

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WASHINGTON -- The government's claim that one of America's major insurance companies gave "misleading and confusing" information to customers has sparked a debate surrounding not only health care, but also free speech.

Humana, a leading insurer that provides Medicare plans and services, recently mailed a warning to elderly customers saying they could lose some benefits under new health care legislation.

Republicans in the Senate Finance Committee now back up those claims, saying seniors can expect more than $100 billion in Medicare cuts.

In response, the Department of Health and Human Services issued an order last week to investigate Humana and halt the mailer.

The department, which oversees Medicare, said it was concerned that "among other things, the information was misleading and confusing" and instructed Humana "to end immediately all such mailing ... and to remove any related materials ... from its Web site."

Humana confirmed with CBN News that it was cooperating, but maintains they did nothing wrong by warning some customers that they could lose many of their "additional benefits" under the bill being debated in the Senate Finance Committee.

Republicans agree, saying it will cut $123 billion from Medicare Advantage. Humana has about 1.4 million enrollees in the program.

"It spends too much money. It borrows too much money," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. "It cuts too much out of Medicare benefits and it violates the president's promise that if you have what you like now, you'll be able to keep it."

Critics call the government's memo essentially a "gag order" to silence opposition and suppress information that might curb support.

"That gives added credence as to why Humana, and other citizens and corporations and others in America should have the freedom of speech," said Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America. "It's to ensure that the government is being kept honest."

After further investigation, CBN News confirmed that the head of the division that oversees the Center for Medicare Management was a former senior adviser to Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Baucus was the one who originally asked the department to look into the Humana mailings.

CBN News asked the Department of Health and Human services for an official statement, but it did not respond in time for this story.

Meanwhile, critics say Americans need full-disclosure when considering a health care overhaul.

"Instead, we have a senator who's offered a bill, now using his connections to threaten and silence citizens with opposing viewpoints," Wright said.

And opposing viewpoints is something many feel they're not getting in the debate right now.

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John Jessup serves as the main news anchor for CBN, a position he assumed after 10 years reporting for the network in Washington, D.C. His work in broadcast news has earned him several awards in reporting, producing, and coordinating elections coverage. Follow John on Twitter @JohnCBNNews and "like" him at Facebook.com/John.V.Jessup.