- Washington Post -
The federal government has ordered health insurers to stop telling Medicare beneficiaries that proposed health reform legislation could hurt seniors and jeopardize their benefits.
The government might take enforcement action against insurers that have tried to mobilize opposition to the legislation by sending their enrollees "misleading and confusing" messages, a senior official of the Department of Health and Human Services said in a memo Monday.
The mailings in question urge enrollees to contact their congressional representatives and protest the legislation, the memo said.
A spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry's main lobbying group, issued a statement Tuesday criticizing what he described as the government's "gag order."
"Seniors have a right to know how the current reform proposals will affect the coverage they currently like and rely on," AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach said.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate's Republican leader, denounced the HHS order as an attempt to squelch free speech.
"We cannot allow government officials to target individuals or companies because they do not like what they have to say," McConnell said.
"Is this what we believe as a Senate -- that this body should debate a trillion-dollar health care bill that affects every American while using the powerful arm of government to shut down speech?" McConnell said.
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