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UnitedHealth brought to front of health-care debate

The nation’s health-reform shouting match has shifted attention to UnitedHealth group over the last 36 hours or so.

The nation’s health-reform debate shouting match has shifted attention to UnitedHealth group over the last 36 hours or so.

First came a letter leaked to Talking Points Memo (and covered here by MinnPost’s Casey Selix) in which the company urged its employees to get out and participate in the “historic debate” taking place at town hall meetings across the country.

That report (which a UnitedHealth spokesman has denied) and a Daily Beast column comparing UnitedHealth’s profit margins to those of Las Vegas casinos became talk show fodder for Keith Olbermann, whose guest, a former Cigna official, commented on the tactic.

“It goes on all the time. I used to do that when I was at Cigna. All the companies do that,” said Wendell Potter, a former communications director for Cigna who has recently spoken out against the health-insurance industry’s lobbying tactics. (See an in-depth interview here.)

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Today, the Motley Fool writes that the larger insurers, including UnitedHealth, have a “near-monopoly” on health insurance, and that a public option is needed to inject competition into the marketplace, which currently doesn’t exist. Yet, the Fool also says Aetna and UnitedHealth have been unfairly scapegoated in the debate:

“By all accounts, they’ve given the Obama administration many concessions; in return, they get to, well, stay alive. Recently, though, they’ve been increasingly vilified by Obama and those who support his plan, simply because the politicians feel the need for a common bogeyman to help rally support.”