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Group Charges Health Insurers Are Violating State Labor Code

Les Masterson, for HealthLeaders Media, September 3, 2009

A California-based consumer group is asking the state's attorney general, Jerry Brown, to investigate health insurance companies that have asked their employees to lobby against healthcare reform.

Consumer Watchdog singled out UnitedHealthcare and WellPoint/Anthem for its national campaigns to help employees write and speak out against health reform, including at town hall meetings. The group charges that the insurers' actions are "almost certainly illegal under the California Labor Code." Consumer Watchdog Research Director Judy Dugan said California's employee protections "against coerced participation in politics are the strongest in the nation."

"Both companies are urging their employees to lobby members of Congress and offering corporate assistance in doing so, including talking points and even the placing of phone calls for the employees," Consumer Watchdog wrote in its letter to Brown.

"WellPoint and UnitedHealthcare are no doubt tracking which employees respond to their demands," said Dugan in a statement. "To call such action 'voluntary' defies common sense."

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that the health insurance industry has been sending thousands of employees to town hall meetings and other forums to petition members of Congress to not support the public insurance option. America's Health Insurance Plans also issued a "Town Hall Tips" that warns health insurance employees who attend the meetings to expect harsh criticism directed at them and asks employees to remain calm and not yell at the elected officials. Robert Zirkelbach, AHIP's director of strategic communications, told the paper that about 50,000 employees have written letters and made phone calls to politicians or attended town hall meetings.

Consumer Watchdog alleges that these actions by the insurers violate Sections 1101 and 1102 in the state's Labor Code, which forbid companies from preventing employees from taking part in politics or directing them in political activities.

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