The Los Angeles Times reported today that the California-based Consumer Watchdog has submitted a letter to Attorney General Jerry Brown calling for an investigation of insurance giants Wellpoint and United HealthCare (UHC). The complaint comes in response to the insurance companies’ practice of actively encouraging employees to engage in anti-health care reform political activity. According to Consumer Watchdog, “while coercive communications with employees may be legal, if abhorrent, in most states, California’s Labor Code appears to directly prohibit them.”
UHC was exposed last month for creating a call center that directed employees to anti-health reform protests. More recently, Wellpoint launched a “grassroots Web site” urging employees to “make [their] voice heard” by contacting Congress in opposition to health reform. It appears that these tactics may have been a violation of California law. According to the watchdog organization’s letter, UnitedHealthCare’s anti-reform hotline and Wellpoint’s astroturf lobbying website may violate California laws meant to prevent employers from influencing the political activity of its employees.
The accusations against UHC and Wellpoint comes on the heels of a string of ethically questionable moves by healthcare and energy giants to fight reform:
• AHIP, the multimillion dollar lobbying juggernaut for the health insurance industry, has mobilized 50,000 of its employees to lobby Congress against the public option.
• AHIP’s grassroots lobbying is managed by the corporate consulting firm Democracy Data & Communications. The firm made its name working for organizations like Phillip Morris and Koch Industries, and is responsible for Wellpoint’s “grassroots” lobbying site linked in the Consumer Watchdog letter.
• Astroturf firm Bonner & Associates is being investigated by Congress for forging letters in opposition to the Waxman-Markey clean energy act.
If Calfornia’s Attorney General chooses to pursue an investigation of UHC and Wellpoint, it could open the floodgates to increased accountability of health care industry ethically questionable lobbying strategies.