With Congress set to come back from its August recess and health care reform front and center on the agenda, Consumer Watchdog is urging California Attorney General Jerry Brown to investigate allegations that some insurers are coercing their employees to lobby for weaker measures.
"We write to request that you investigate actions by health insurance companies Anthem/Wellpoint and United Healthcare that may violate the right of employees in California to be free of political pressure by employers," the group said. "We believe that such individual political persuasion by an employer amounts to illegal coercion under the California Labor Code."
The Santa Monica, California-based advocacy group published letters that it claimed were from insurers United Health Group and Wellpoint, urging employees to call Congress with pre-written talking points and included phone numbers.
The Wellpoint letter asked employees to visit the company's "grassroots" Web site the Health Action Network and "contact your elected officials, as well as notifying friends, neighbors, and family members about this important issue."
Consumer Watchdog claimed the "voluntary" request was anything but, in light of the instruction to make the calls during business hours, and the companies' ability to monitor their employees for compliance.
"Wellpoint and United HealthCare are no doubt tracking which employees respond to their demands," said Consumer Watchdog's research director Judy Dugan. "To call such action 'voluntary' defies common sense."
California Labor Code Section 1101 prohibits companies from preventing their employees from engaging in political activity, or directing the activities they may take. Section 1102 prohibits companies from threatening to fire or punish employees from engaging in political activity.
Even if the Attorney General does take notice, that might not guarantee any action, however.
California regulators admitted last year that they could not enforce a previously-levied $1 million fine on Anthem BlueCross, a division of Wellpoint, for rescinding coverage to individuals who made claims, a process called "recission."
The Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) said that Anthem Blue Cross could contest each recission, which could "tie us up in court forever."