Civil Liberties

"Gag Orders" in the Medicare Debate and "Soft Tyranny"

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The Department of Health and Human Services orders Humana Corp to stop sending out letters to its members claiming that elements of the current health care reform plan flailing about in Congress could cause them to "lose many of the important benefits and services that make Medicare Advantage plans so valuable," claiming the letters are "misleading and confusing."

The Wall Street Journal claims that the Congressional Budget Office should, by those standards, be hit with a similar gag order:

On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office director told Mr. Baucus's committee that its plan to cut $123 billion from Medicare Advantage—the program that gives almost one-fourth of seniors private health-insurance options—will result in lower benefits and some 2.7 million people losing this coverage.

Imagine that. Last week…Jonathan Blum, acting director of a regulatory office in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said that a mailer Humana sent its customers [making a similar point] was "misleading and confusing to beneficiaries, who may believe that it represents official communication about the Medicare Advantage program."

Mark Tapscott at the D.C. Examiner sees this government attempt to hush up Humana's communications with its customers as a disturbing sign of "soft tyranny," apparent in more than one part of the health care debate particularly:

The companies were ordered "to end immediately all such mailings to beneficiaries and to remove any related materials directed to Medicare enrollees from your website."

The bureaucrats added this blunt threat: "Please be advised that we take this matter very seriously and, based upon the findings of our investigation, will pursue compliance and enforcement actions. …."

Those, my friends, are the words of soft tyranny. How much longer before it becomes a hard tyranny?

History—and the words of progressives themselves—suggest not long. Consider New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's telling admiration for the communist thugs who run the Chinese government:

"One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonabley enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century."

That in a nutshell is the totalitarian temptation that plagues all who would use the power of the state to impose their vision of the good society on the rest of us.

NEXT: Defending the Internet from Rascals and FCC Chairmen

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  1. Sounds like time to brush up on the unconstitutional conditions doctrine:
    http://classes.lls.edu/archive/manheimk/114d3/echarts/uncondit.htm

  2. Am I the only one hoping that Humana fights this?

  3. No, Tomcat, you’re not the only one. But how many of us think they actually will?

  4. “One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonabley enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.”

    Critically important stuff like evicting thousands of people to make room for an Olympic stadium?

    Or, maybe, telling the hippies to STFU and stop their dopey whining about nuclear power?

  5. Those, my friends, are the words of soft tyranny. How much longer before it becomes a hard tyranny?

    Until it has a chance to peruse Atlas Shagged or We The Horny, I suppose.

    Seriously, this is bad.

  6. This is how it should go….

    Dear Department of Health and Human Services,

    Do you have any right to regulate speech? Do you own any guns or are you otherwise going to come over here and make us shut up?

    No? Well, fuck you then.

    Sincerly,

    Humana Staff

  7. The WSJ also pointed out that the AARP, an Obamacare cheeleader, was sending out messages to it’s membership promoting the plan and claiming no one on Medicare would have their benefits cut in any way – a demonstrably false statement.

    But of course they got no cease and desist warnings.

  8. This has to be ok- after all, Obama taught constitutional law. He must know what he’s doing, ya friggin racists…

  9. How the fuck can this be legal?

  10. Do you own any guns or are you otherwise going to come over here and make us shut up?

    I’m gonna tell my big brother about you!

  11. Once Humana is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Department of Health and Human Services, we won’t have to listen to this sort of quibbling.

  12. Here’s hoping that Humana decides to fight this in the courts and in the press. They should take the position that their announcement has been validated by the CBO, and that they are committed to keeping their clients informed about what is going on in Washington. If they play this right, its a big PR win for them.

    Although I thought I heard that they had already caved.

  13. It’s seriously unfortunate that so many these days seem to have no backbone.

    They seriously need to first ask what exactly it was that was false, and second ask how they plan to enforce their unconstitutional request. Just for fun add, what are you going to do, bleed on me?

  14. There is soft tyranny all over the health care debate. They know that if an actual debate gets started, too many people (people who normally ignore politics) will hear that they are going to be forced to buy insurance, and will fucking freak out.

    They have to shut down the debate and keep it as quiet as possible or this thing stands no chance of passing. Their only hope is that once it’s a fait accompli it’ll be harder to get rid of than it was to pass.

  15. Humana shouldn’t even have to fight. HHS should shut the fuck up, apologize, fire the offending employees, and ban them from the public teat for life.

  16. It is absolutely SOP for regulators to do this sort of thing to the regulated. When my company got treated this way in a previous job, I would call the regulator and ask them for a law or regulation giving them the authority to so act. With something like this, I’d call and remind them of our Constitutional rights.

    Of course, the ability of a regulated entity to resist such things is limited. There’s this thing called retaliation, see.

  17. “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear. We’ll return your computers when we’re damned good and ready. Here’s your receipt. Thanks for your co-operation.”

  18. Pro,

    In heavily regulated industries like healthcare or chemical refining and such, the regulations are so voluminous and complex that anyone can be found to be in violation if the regulator tries hard enough. So, what happens is the entire area becomes personality driven. The way to run a healthcare corporation or an oil company is to play mother may I with the regulators and stay on good terms with them. They are so overwelmed that they can’t enforce their own regulations against everyone or even most of the regulated community. So, they just go after people they don’t like.

    The whole thing is a great example of unintended consiquences. We write such extensive and detailed regulations in part to guard against coruption by limited the discretion of regulators. In reality, we make regulations that are too large and complex to be enforceable. And, as a result, give regulators virtually unfettered discretion.

  19. John,

    I’ve found that there are two particularly bad situations when dealing with regulators. The first is when, as you say, the company is heavily regulated. Then there are so many ways for the regulator to get you that, in practice, their power is unlimited. . .and arbitrary.

    The second is when the enabling legislation is so broad as to make the power of the regulator unclear. Which, of course, means more unlimited and arbitrary power. The FTC often falls into that category in the areas it covers.

  20. So, what happens is the entire area becomes personality driven. The way to run a healthcare corporation or an oil company is to play mother may I with the regulators and stay on good terms with them.

    So very, very true. I’ve put a lot of effort over the years in buttering up Our Regulatory Masters, and occasionally in trying to get a bad one switched out (which generally involves getting your local politicos to generate some discomfort at the agency). The whole thing makes me feel so . . . dirty. And not in the fun way.

  21. http://iowahawk.typepad.com/iowahawk/2009/09/earn-big-the-nea-way.html

    Sort of related to this thread. And it is absolutely hysterical.

  22. Government and regulator relations is absolutely relationship driven. Almost completely. How that doesn’t horrify even people who hate corporations is beyond me.

  23. Corporations are evil; they are run by nefarious, profit seeking capitalists. The government is run by selfless philanthropists, who just want to make your life better.

  24. John –

    This is the same thing with cops and traffic laws. It’s so easy to pull anyone over and have probable cause to be searched, we unintentionally allow the racists to be racists and the stalkers to be stalkers.

    Though I have started thinking recently that unintentionally can’t be true forever. If you’re shown that your actions are creating these results and you do nothing – how long can it be said that the result is actually “unintentional”

    Separate note of course 🙂

  25. g4m3th30ry,

    Traffic laws is another good example. When they first made not having a seatbelt a moving violation, my father said “that is nothing but an excuse for cops to pull over black people”. My father is somewhere to the right of Archie Bunker. For him to call something out as racist is pretty rare. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right.

  26. John is so incredibly right above.
    This is one of the central truths about our regulatory system that progressives are just too ignorant and ideologically blind to recognize. I wish there was some way to pound it into their tiny little pea brains.

  27. Can you imagine if every progressive were as smart as they thought they were? Their brain growth would be like when the Grinch’s heart grew 10 sizes plus two.

  28. Traffic laws is???? Sorry about that.

  29. “One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonabley enlightened group of people, as China is today the right people are in charge, it can also have great advantages.

    Wow, it’s like the ghost of joe has given Friedman a gorilla mask.

  30. “””Those, my friends, are the words of soft tyranny. How much longer before it becomes a hard tyranny?””

    Until I get those nude Jeri Ryan photos!!!

  31. “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” – Aldous Huxley

    … or in this case hidden.

  32. sage,

    I would prefer a libertarian dictator to our current creeping-statist semi-constitutional republic.

    Also, referring to any primate in the same paragraph as government officials is racist.

  33. I live in China a good part of the year, and a few weeks ago I offered some friends in the Communist Party a trade. The U.S. would give them Obama, Bush, and both Clintons in trade for either Hu Jintao or Wen Jiabao. I couldn’t get them to even consider the trade as they only laughed at me and asked me how stupid and crazy I thought they were.

  34. “Here’s hoping that Humana decides to fight this in the courts and in the press. They should take the position that their announcement has been validated by the CBO, and that they are committed to keeping their clients informed about what is going on in Washington.”

    It would be nice if they do, but barring the sumpreme court holding that corporations do have free speech rights, can they actually win? A significant protion of the Left belives that a corporate entity has no constitutional rights, so unless the agency doing the ordering can be ruled as exceeding its statutory authority, the administration probably belives they have done nothing wrong.

  35. Dear Humana organization,

    Please stop killing our buzz.

    Thank you,

    Your government.

  36. How dare Humana lie using taxpayer money?

    That’s OUR fucking job.

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