Blue Shield of California’s Refund is Peanuts Compared to its Profits

As the head of communications for two of the country’s largest health insurers for almost 20 years, I recognize an orchestrated spin campaign when I see one. And boy oh boy did I see an award-winning one this week in San Francisco.

The supposedly nonprofit Blue Shield of California went to extraordinary lengths Tuesday to unveil its “bold move to address the health care affordability crisis” by pledging to limit its annual profit to no more than 2 percent of …

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The ‘Clear Obscurity’ of the Health Insurance Industry

Insurers’ selective statements on profits reveal tools of the PR trade

I turned 43 a couple of weeks after I joined CIGNA in 1993. One of the birthday gifts from my new colleagues was a framed three-word quote by E. B. White: “Be obscure clearly.”

We laughed hard. It was an inside joke—and a perfect present for an HMO PR guy who sometimes had to be obscure when responding to media inquiries.  Reporters always wanted more information than I dared …

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Special Treatment for ‘High Profile’ Patients; Exasperation for the Rest of Us

Like many others,  I’ve heard President Obama talk about his mother’s insurance problems during her final months in 1995. The memory of his mother having to devote precious time and energy pleading with her insurer to pay her mounting medical bills fueled Obama’s determination to focus on passing health care reform.

But I didn’t realize until reading a new book about the president’s mother that  the insurer she was pleading with was CIGNA, the one I used to work for.  …

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Are Insurers Writing the Health Reform Regulations?

One of the reasons I wanted to return to journalism after a long career as an insurance company PR man was to keep an eye on the implementation of the new health reform law. Many journalists who covered the reform debate have moved on, and some consider the writing of regulations to implement the legislation boring and of little interest to the public.

But insurance company lobbyists know the media are not paying much attention. And so they are able …

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A Prize for Simply Doing What’s Right

This week I received a Ridenhour Prize for my book, Deadly Spin. I’m honored to receive the award, especially in light of my fellow recipients: former Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin; the producers of a film called Budrus, about attempts to find non-violent solutions to the strife in the Middle East, and Thomas Drake, an NSA contractor who blew the whistle on what he believed were corrupt practices. Past honorees have included Bill Moyers and Bob Herbert. Elite company.…

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The ‘Front Group’ Hall of Shame

Today will go down in the public relations history books as the day health insurers and their allies began a coordinated campaign to ensure that the health care reform law is implemented in ways that will benefit them way more than the rest of us. Today is the day they plan to launch their brand new front group—drum roll please—the Choice and Competition Coalition.

But first, a bit of context.

In a chapter of my book, Deadly Spin, entitled “The …

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Pay Much Attention to the Insurers Behind the Curtain

Democrats who think Paul Ryan and his Republican colleagues have foolishly wrapped their arms around the third rail of American politics by proposing to hand the Medicare program to private insurers will themselves look foolish if they take for granted that the public will always be on their side.

Rep. Ryan’s budget proposal would radically reshape both the Medicare and Medicaid programs. It would turn Medicaid into a block grant, which would give states more discretion over benefits and eligibility. …

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Insurers’ Cynical Calculations on the Cost of Doing Business

Since you likely don’t pay as much attention to the behavior of insurance companies as I do, you probably are not aware that CIGNA, my last employer, was fined $600,000 by the North Carolina Department of Insurance earlier this week for, among other things, not charging its customers correctly.

In addition to the fine CIGNA has been ordered to pay, the company will have to shell out several hundred thousand dollars in refunds to North Carolina employers whom regulators say …

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The False Promise and Big Profits of ‘Mini-Med’ Health Plans

One of the reasons I left my job as a PR executive for the health insurance industry was because I could not in good conscience be a pitchman for the sort of fabulously profitable benefit plan that often provides little more than the illusion of coverage.

Known as “mini-meds,” these plans have become popular among businesses like fast-food chains that have many low-wage employees. The common features of these plans: high deductibles, modest benefits and low annual caps on medical …

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‘Reframing’ the Debate to Make Insurers Look Poor.

In 2010 the U.S. Census Bureau delivered the troubling but hardly shocking news that almost 51 million Americans — nearly one out of every six of us — had fallen into the ranks of the uninsured. If you think that news would also be troubling for health insurance companies, think again. While the country was struggling to emerge from a recession, and more and more of us were struggling with no medical coverage, the big for-profit insurance companies were rolling …

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