Updated: UnitedHealth says its advocacy arm does not urge employees to participate in ‘tea parties’

Talking Points Memo is reporting that Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group’s advocacy hotline is directing employees to participate in the “tea parties” that have been in the news.

A document obtained by TPM shows the extent to which the advocacy team will assist employees and insured members, including advice on writing letters to Congress and talking points for town hall meetings. Read it here.

According to TPM, “… a source who’s insured by UHG — and who also obtained the letter — called the hotline on Tuesday and says the company directed him to an events list hosted by the right wing America’s Independent Party, and suggested he attend an anti-health-care-reform tea party sponsored by religious fundamentalist Dave Daubenmire, scheduled for today outside the office of Blue Dog Rep. Zack Space (D-OH).”

UnitedHealth spokesman John Parker said this evening that the TPM report is inaccurate. “We have never encouraged our employees to participate in tea parties. Our events list is one we assemble based on publicly available information about town halls sponsored by members of Congress. We do not use lists from third-party organizations.”

But it’s clear that the mega-insurer’s United for Health Reform PAC is urging employees to get involved in the national discourse by attending town halls, writing letters to members of Congress and even volunteering to host house parties. The hotline offers specialists who will assist employees on how to get involved. When MinnPost called this morning, the specialists were busy assisting other callers.

An Aug. 12 memo posted on United for Health Reform’s site from UnitedHealth CEO Steve Hemsley to employees hints that some people may be getting carried away in their advocacy efforts. The memo’s title: “Respect and Cooperation are Key to the Free Exchange of Ideas.”

“Your response has been enthusiastic, with a great many of you choosing to actively join the dialogue,” Hemsley writes. “We are grateful for your engagement and the care and commitment it reflects.

“We encourage you to continue to lend your practical know-how and point of view to the health care reform debate, as always, in a respectful and collegial manner that elevates the discussion and that is consistent with the social values we hold as a company. Our mission is to help people live healthier lives. To do that, we know we have to listen closely to the people we serve and work together with them, coordinating our efforts to achieve an optimal outcome. We must remain mindful to bring that same spirit of service, respect and cooperation to this important public discussion.”

Dr. Reed Tuckson, executive vice president and chief of medical affairs at UnitedHealth Group, also urges employees to get involved with this message on the PAC’s website:

“While we are all employees of UnitedHealth Group, we are also citizens in a democratic system of government and with that comes both the responsibility and the opportunity to make our voices heard. Of course, your participation is voluntary, but I hope you will join me this August by calling on Congress to pass bipartisan, comprehensive health care reform.”

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by dan buechler on 08/19/2009 - 02:06 pm.

    Good scoop good digging (much much more important than Brett F.) Including the corporate memo was also interesting. Give us more please.

  2. Submitted by T J Simplot on 08/19/2009 - 02:16 pm.

    I really don’t see this as a big deal. If advocacy groups can send emails to their voluteers telling them to do the same, why can’t companies?

  3. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 08/19/2009 - 03:46 pm.

    As Congressman Dennis Kucinich correctly says, the Obamacare, HR 3200, and related bills, are simply designed to completely support large private insurance companies, such as United Health, and any liberals who support these bills are supporting the big insurance companies. That is why Harry and Louise are supporting Big Pharma Obamacare.

  4. Submitted by dan buechler on 08/19/2009 - 06:49 pm.

    I for one think it is a big deal. Volunteers can freely engage or disengage at will sometimes to the detriment of their organization. Employees have far fewer freedoms i.e. employment at will, coercion, etc, etc. No longer do we have semi sufficient yeomen on the frontier.

  5. Submitted by Terry Hokenson on 08/20/2009 - 09:28 am.

    Obviously the big health insurance companies have their own corporate self-interest at heart, not the interest of the public. They also have mega-resources compared to volunteer advocacy organizations. Besides paying lobbyists and buying politicians, they can mobilize employees, finance huge advertising campaigns and dominate the media. This is the subversion of democracy.

  6. Submitted by Aaron Klemz on 08/20/2009 - 11:28 am.

    I think my favorite part is that an “advocacy specialist” is available to “personalize” your message.

  7. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 08/20/2009 - 01:07 pm.

    #5: Terry H. As I see it, the problem with the current Massachusetts-plan copies being offered by the Congress’s Blue Dogs and go-along Dems is that these plans, too, favor the insurance companies instead of the public. And removing the public option just makes things worse by removing the one real alternative to overpriced insurance that patients would have.

    Since corporate interests are what Republicans always seem to favor, I find it difficult to understand their opposition — except as a Make Obama Look Bad By Killing This Legislation bid.

    Maybe Congress will smarten up a tad if the Democratic Progressive Caucus honors its pledge not to vote for any plan that does not include a strong public option. (It probably won’t smarten up enough to vote for single-payer, though.)

  8. Submitted by Jeff Kline on 08/21/2009 - 05:58 am.

    Hmmm… Knowing some folks who work at United Health as I do; and reading this and some of the other banter going on out there, you can really see the morphing going on of things people say, or folding of demographic or poll data in order to get your point across.

    Fact is that its in United Health’s best interest to remain private and not a participant in a single payer system. What is more amazing is to see all these web sites touting this program and towing the Obama/Biden/Pelosi/Reid line like they do despite the democratic public coming to these tea parties and telling the legislators to vote this DOWN–along with the rest of us. Even the public knows what is going on here; but there is this large divide between the extreme liberal democrats and the rest of the public–republican or democrat.

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