Ethics

Blue Shield of California's Fake Benevolence

Blue Shield of Calif. CEO Bruce BodakenAs the head of communications for two of the country's largest health insurers for almost 20 years, I recognize an orchestrated spin campaign when I see one. And boy, oh boy, did I see an award-winning one this week in San Francisco.

The supposedly nonprofit Blue Shield of California went to extraordinary lengths on Tuesday, June 7 to unveil its "bold move to address the health care affordability crisis" by pledging to limit its annual profit to no more than 2 percent of revenue. And not just going forward, mind you, but all the way back to 2010, when the nonprofit's profits were considerably more than 2 percent -- so much more that Blue Shield of California says it will refund $180 million to its policyholders.

Americans for Prosperity Posts Fake Eviction Notices on Detroit Homes

AFP Michigan's "eviction notice"The Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has been posting fake eviction notices on the doors of residents of a Detroit, Michigan neighborhood, frightening homeowners in a city with one of the country's highest foreclosure rates. AFP 's goal is to get people to oppose construction of a new bridge that would connect Detroit with Canada. Canada agreed to fund a loan to construct the bridge, to be called the Detroit River International Crossing. AFP argues that the bridge is "unwarranted" and a "boondoggle." Large capital letters near the top of AFP's flyer say "EVICTION NOTICE." The medium-sized print at the top says "This property is subject to seizure by the Michigan Department of Transportation." The fine print says the property in question could be seized if a bill approving the bridge is passed. The editorial editor of the Detroit Free Press called AFP's fake eviction notices "emotional terrorism." Scott Hagerstrom, state director of the Michigan chapter of AFP, refused to apologize for the flyer or for rattling Detroit residents. Hagerstrom said, "It was meant to startle people ... We wanted people to read it."

No

Twitter the Winner in Weinergate

Twitter WeinerThe only winner to emerge from the "Weinergate" scandal is Twitter, which once again paraded its effectiveness at everything from bringing down dictators to engaging in political self-immolation. Twitter is truly a double-edged sword. It can be used for good things like facilitating communication after natural disasters, or it can facilitate disaster itself by amplifying the effects of poor human judgment. In the time it took to make a single stroke on a computer key and then lie about it, Anthony Weiner destroyed his credibility, damaged his marriage and his integrity, handed endless fodder to his political enemies and singlehandedly diverted attention from a huge number of truly important domestic and global issues, for example that the U.S. is spending $2 billion a week in Afghanistan while cutting desperately-needed programs and services here at home, or that an unprecedented three nuclear reactors experienced full meltdowns at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The Weinergate scandal shows that a little salacious piece of information sent out on Twitter has the tremendous power to wipe far more important news off the media map -- a realization that itself has huge implications when it comes to controlling what people see and hear in the mass media.

Michele Bachmann Hires Ed Rollins to Manage Presidential Campaign

Ed RollinsRep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) has hired pollster and political consultant Ed Rollins to run her campaign for president, if she does run for president. Rollins managed Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign, which ended in a landslide for Reagan. Rollins also managed Ross Perot's 1992 Presidential bid, and was campaign chair for Mike Huckabee's 2008 bid for the Republican presidential nomination. In 1993, Rollins managed Christie Todd Whitman's campaign for governor of New Jersey. The New York Times reported that in that campaign, Rollins paid out about $500,000 in "walking around money" to black ministers and Democratic party workers in exchange for  promises not to rally votes for Ms. Whitman's opponent, incumbent Gov. Jim Florio. In New Jersey, such "street money" is intended to cover incidental Election Day expenses to help get out the vote, like providing bus fare, cab fare or lunch for poll workers. The individual payments Rollins made in Whitman's campaign were small enough to evade campaign reporting requirements. Rollins' effort to depress the black, urban vote in New Jersey were pivotal in helping Ms. Whitman win a narrow victory in that election.

No

Health Insurers Have Had Their Chance

Vermont Governor Peter ShumlinOf the many supporters of a single-payer health care system in the United States, some of the most ardent are small business owners who have struggled to continue offering coverage to their workers.

Among them are David Steil, a small business owner and former Republican state legislator in Pennsylvania who earlier this year became president of the advocacy group Health Care 4 All PA.

Another supporter is Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who last Thursday signed a bill that sets the stage for the country's first single-payer plan. If all goes as Shumlin and the bill's many backers hope, all 620,000 Vermonters will eventually be enrolled in a state-run plan to replace Blue Cross, CIGNA and other private insurers whose business practices have contributed to the number of Vermonters without coverage -- approximately 60,000 and growing.

Rapture PR Campaign Led to Russian Teen's Suicide

Jesus my badHarold Camping poured millions of dollars into his global PR campaign to convince people around the world that Earth as we know it would end on Saturday, May 21. Some believers who took his prediction to heart gave up their homes, their jobs and liquidated their worldly assets to buy more advertising to advance his message. But the biggest sacrifice that occurred as a result of Camping's prediction is a 14 year old girl from Russia who reportedly hanged herself to avoid being left behind with the nonbelievers Camping claimed would suffer on Earth after the rapture. The Christian Post reported that in the days leading up to May 21, Nastya Zachinova of Central Russia's Republic of Mari El wrote entries in her personal diary that revealed she was terrified of the suffering Camping predicted would come, and that she didn't believe she was one of the "righteous" who would rise up to heaven and be saved. On Monday, May 23 -- two days after the world failed to end as he predicted -- Camping faced the media and gave a statement acknowledging his "error." After he was finished speaking, a reporter informed Camping that a mother who had believed his prediction had attempted to kill herself and her two children, but did not succeed. Camping said he was relieved she did not succeed. But when a reporter pressed Camping about whether he would accept any responsibility for the mother's attempt, Camping answered he would not. "I don't have any responsibility. I can't take responsibility for anybody's life. I'm only teaching the Bible," Camping responded. Presumably he accepts no responsibility for Nastya Zachinova's death, either.

No

Insurers Blame Americans; Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee Ducks Questions

Blue Cross Blue Shield of TNThe reaction of health insurers to the Obama administration's requirement that they start justifying rate increases of 10 percent or more was quick and predictable: "Not fair!"

The PR and lobbying group America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) absolved the industry of any responsibility for constantly rising premiums and pointed the finger of blame at just about everyone else. The real culprits, AHIP president Karen Ignagni insisted, are greedy doctors and hospitals, state legislators who make insurers provide coverage for an overly broad range of illnesses, and, of course, irresponsible American citizens, especially healthy young people who decide not to buy insurance.

Charles G. Koch Foundation Hires and Fires Economists at Public University

According to news reports, the Charles G. Koch Foundation has bought "the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university." Kris Hundley of the St. Petersburg Times reports that the elder Koch brother's foundation "pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University's economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting 'political economy and free enterprise.'"

Got Health Insurance? Pray You Won't Get Purged

You might not realize it, but this is National Small Business Week. I'm betting many small business owners aren't aware of it, either. Perhaps that's because most small business owners are far more likely to be worrying about whether they'll be able to offer health insurance to their employees for another year.

Cutting health insurance costsOr is this the year they join the ever-growing list of small businesses that have been "purged" by their insurance carrier?

For several years now, insurance companies have been "purging" small business accounts they no longer consider profitable enough or that their underwriters believe pose too much risk. I became familiar with"purging" (yes, that's the actual word insurance executives use internally) toward the end of my career as an industry PR man.

Dear Mr. President, I Wish I Had Known...

Like many others, I've heard President Obama talk about his mother's insurance problems during her final months in 1995. The memory of his mother having to devote precious time and energy pleading with her insurer to pay her mounting medical bills fueled Obama's determination to focus on passing health care reform.

But I didn't realize until reading a new book about the president's mother that the insurer she was pleading with was CIGNA, the one I used to work for. I wish I had known at the time. In my role as PR man for the company, I might have been able to help.

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