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Connecticut eyes HMO communication with customers
NEW YORK |
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Connecticut attorney general is seeking information about what the state's five largest health insurers may have sent policyholders over legislation that would reform the Medicare program for the elderly.
The information requests announced on Friday follow a U.S. government probe announced last month into a letter sent from Humana Inc (HUM.N) to its Medicare members that caused a stir on Capitol Hill.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal wants information from Aetna Inc (AET.N), UnitedHealth Group Inc (UNH.N), Health Net (HNT.N), WellPoint Inc's (WLP.N) Anthem Health Plans unit and ConnectiCare Inc.
However, representatives of four companies -- Aetna, UnitedHealth, Health Net and ConnectiCare -- told Reuters they had not sent their Medicare members letters about health reform.
A spokeswoman for Anthem said it had yet to identify any such information being sent in marketing materials to seniors, but that it had only just started its review of Blumenthal's request.
UnitedHealth, one of the largest U.S. providers of Medicare plans, did have a public Website available for people to receive information about being an advocate for Medicare Advantage, company spokesman Terence O'Hara said.
The company took the Website down after the probe into Humana was announced, he said. O'Hara also said company newsletters to members may have included information about the debate over Medicare Advantage plans, which are privately administered under the government program.
"UnitedHealthcare has a strong commitment to communicating clearly and accurately with our members regarding their health plans," O'Hara said.
The U.S. Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said in September it was investigating a letter Humana sent enrollees that warned Democrats' bills could lead to reduced benefits for seniors. CMS said it was concerned the information was misleading and confusing to beneficiaries, among other things, and could violate federal regulations.
Republicans and health insurers objected to the U.S. probe, calling it political interference.
Health insurers have argued that cuts to Medicare Advantage would raise costs and reduce benefits for those who want the private plans.
Blumenthal and Healthcare Advocate Kevin Lembo said they made their requests after reports that Humana sent policyholders "deceptive" materials urging them to oppose changes to the Medicare Advantage program.
"Health insurers must stop using seniors as pawns -- scaring them with misinformation in mailings -- to oppose cost-saving healthcare reforms," Blumenthal said in a news release.
Stephen Jewett, a spokesman for ConnectiCare, said health insurers are already required by federal law to have Medicare Advantage marketing materials approved by CMS.
"ConnectiCare believes this request is being spurred by 'health reform politics' and is not warranted," Jewett said in a statement.
(Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)
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