CNN's Lou Dobbs Program Picks Up on Obama/Humana 'Gag Order' Controversy

Kitty Pilgrim, CNN Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgCNN’s Kitty Pilgrim followed the lead of ABC News in reporting the Obama administration’s attempt to use regulatory power to suppress criticism of its health care proposal on Wednesday’s Lou Dobbs Tonight. Pilgrim noted how “[health] insurers are angry because...the government Medicaid office instructed them to cease sending what it called misleading...information about the bill to clients.”

Anchor Lou Dobbs introduced the correspondent’s report 19 minutes in the 7 pm Eastern hour: “Lawmakers and some of this country’s insurers today [are] incensed about what they see as a White House attempt to control information about possible Medicare cuts. The White House yesterday, in fact, warned insurers and health care companies they could face legal action if they spread what the White House calls misinformation about the health care bill.”

After playing a clip from President Obama’s recent address to Congress, where he pressed Americans to not “pay attention to those scary stories about how your benefits will be cut,” Pilgrim began her report by stating “that’s not quite how the head of the Congressional Budget Office sees it. Director Douglas Elmendorf testified the proposed Senate bill would cut payments to Medicare Advantage plans by more than $100 billion over 10 years.” The CNN correspondent continued with the Obama administration’s reply to the CBO assessment: “The White House says Medicare Advantage plans will still be paid more than traditional Medicare plans, but the cuts will encourage efficiency.”

Pilgrim then noted what an agency of the administration did when some insurers tried to inform their customers about the proposed cuts:

PILGRIM: Insurers are angry because the night before the bill markup, the government Medicaid office instructed them to cease sending what it called misleading and confusing information about the bill to clients. ‘We are instructing you to immediately discontinue all such mailings,’ it said, and threatened compliance and enforcement actions. ‘We believe that such communications are potentially contrary to federal regulations,’ the Medicaid office said. Insurers are describing the instruction as a gag order. One trade group estimates it went to 200 Medicare health plan companies.

Now that CNN and ABC have both reported on the current administration’s attempt to silence opposition to its proposed “reform” of the health care system, one wonders when the rest of the mainstream media will take notice.

The full transcript of the segment from Wednesday’s Lou Dobbs Tonight program:

LOU DOBBS: Lawmakers and some of this country’s insurers today [are] incensed about what they see as a White House attempt to control information about possible Medicare cuts. The White House yesterday, in fact, warned insurers and health care companies they could face legal action if they spread what the White House calls misinformation about the health care bill. Kitty Pilgrim has our report.

KITTY PILGRIM (voice-over): Reassuring words from the President that Medicare benefits would not be cut.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So don’t pay attention to those scary stories about how your benefits will be cut.

PILGRIM: That’s not quite how the head of the Congressional Budget Office sees it. Director Douglas Elmendorf testified the proposed Senate bill would cut payments to Medicare Advantage plans by more than $100 billion over 10 years. Medicare Advantage is a private plan that covers more than 10 million people. A trade group for 300,000 small insurers is concerned by the CBO testimony.

CHARLES SYMINGTON, INDEPENDENT INSURANCE AGENTS: If you cut too deeply, then that could push folks off the roll. And it’s not only a matter of pushing folks off the Medicare Advantage rolls- even those remaining beneficiaries- they may experience some negative impacts to their coverages.

PILGRIM: The White House says Medicare Advantage plans will still be paid more than traditional Medicare plans, but the cuts will encourage efficiency. Insurers are angry because the night before the bill markup, the government Medicaid office instructed them to cease sending what it called misleading and confusing information about the bill to clients. ‘We are instructing you to immediately discontinue all such mailings,’ it said, and threatened compliance and enforcement actions. ‘We believe that such communications are potentially contrary to federal regulations,’ the Medicaid office said. Insurers are describing the instruction as a gag order. One trade group estimates it went to 200 Medicare health plan companies.

ROBERT ZIRKELBACH, AMERICA’S HEALTH INSURANCE PLANS: Health plans across the country are now being forced to stop communicating with seniors at a time when members of Congress are considering legislation that will drastically impact the coverage that these very seniors rely on.

PILGRIM: Humana, the fourth largest health insurer, which received the memo issued this statement. ‘We also believe Medicare Advantage members deserve to know the impact that the funding cuts of the magnitude being discussed would have on benefits and premiums.’

PILGRIM (on-camera): Now, however, Humana said they that they had complied with the memo. They had taken the information about the proposed legislation off of their website. In committee today, Senator [Jon] Kyl was wondering why communicat[ing] proposed legislation to seniors would be considered a problem by the government agency. Lou?

DOBBS: Well- and why would any- any White House be- effectively, trying to curtail First Amendment rights of any corporation?

PILGRIM: That was under great discussion today.

DOBBS: And as we’ve just documented here, the- the five major corrections by the Congressional Budget Office- for misrepresentation and the contradictions- have all been directed at the administration and the President for his statements, rather than Humana or any other health care company in this national dialogue- which apparently, some people would like to constrain. Kitty, thank you very much.

Well, it is certainly not the first time the Congressional Budget Office has corrected the President. The CBO disputed a promise by the President about the impact of his health care plan and the deficit.

OBAMA (from August 11, 2009 town hall meeting): I said I won’t sign a bill that adds to the deficit or the national debt.

DOBBS: While, in fact, the CBO- the non-partisan CBO- said health care legislation would actually raise the federal budget deficit by $239 billion over 10 years.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center