Hammering Humana

Health Care and Government Power

Chuck Colson

You’ve been warned: Don’t tug on Superman’s cape. Don’t spit into the wind. And when it comes to health care reform, don’t anger the government.

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If you appreciate the raw, naked use of governmental power, then you have a new hero on Capitol Hill—Senator Max Baucus.

Senator Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance committee, has crafted a health care reform bill that would cut $123 billion from Medicare Advantage, an extremely popular program that allows seniors to get additional coverage for things like hearing aids and vision care—things not covered in basic Medicare.

So it’s not surprising that the private insurance company Humana, which offers Medicare Advantage, would send a letter to its customers warning them of the cut.

What is surprising—actually shocking—was the reaction of Senator Baucus. The Wall Street Journal reports that the infuriated Senator “complained to the [Federal] Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which duly ordered Humana to cease and desist. CMS claimed the mailer was ‘misleading and confusing’ and told the company it has opened an official probe” into the letter’s legality.

The only problem is that the letter wasn’t misleading. As National Public Radio reported, “There's no denying that folks enrolled in Medicare Advantage would see reductions under the proposals...Humana does seem to have a point.”

And earlier this week, the Congressional Budget Office told Senator Baucus’s committee that the proposed cuts would result in “lower benefits and some 2.7 million people losing this coverage.”

So it seems that a private insurer doesn’t have to mislead its clients to get investigated by a federal agency. All it has to do torque off a powerful senator.

But what will happen if one day the government itself is in the health care business? Do you think for a moment it could resist the temptation to use its power against its competitors—in this case, private insurers? We already see how Congressional backers of the so-called “government option” are trying to whip up public fury against private insurers.

This points to a larger, critical, largely un-discussed issue in this debate about health care reform—and that is the biblically ordained role of both government and private institutions.

Government is ordained by God to preserve order, restrain evil, and do justice. That’s it. And from a biblical perspective—upheld by both the Catholic and Protestant traditions—private institutions have a crucial role to play in society as well.

It became particularly clear during the Reformation that there were aspects of life over which government had no legitimate authority. The Reformers called this “sphere sovereignty”—every sphere carrying out its own responsibility before God. This not only includes such ancient institutions as the family and the Church, it includes private enterprise—like insurance companies—and other voluntary associations.

I’ve mentioned before my specific concerns about the health care bills now being debated on Capitol Hill. But my overwhelming concern is more fundamental—and that’s the intrusion of government into spheres it simply does not belong, at the expense of private institutions.

For this not only violates biblical principles and millennia of Western thought, it ultimately leads to tyranny. Like investigating private companies because they disagree with you and dare say so.

Further Reading and Information

Humana Letter On Medicare Advantage Spurs Spat With Feds
Julie Rovner | NPR Health Blog | September 22, 2009

Baucus Bludgeons Humana
Wall Street Journal | September 22, 2009

Medicare and Gag Orders
Wall Street Journal | September 24, 2009

Not in the National Interest: Government-Run Health Care
Chuck Colson | BreakPoint Commentary | September 18, 2009