Blue Cross Blue Shield Sweepstakes Is Part of Association Health Plan Opposition Campaign
The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association has created an online promotion called the "America Speaks Sweepstakes" that offers cash and prizes to encourage people to contact their congressional representatives to express opposition to legislation (HR 660) that would allow small businesses to form interstate association health plans, the Kansas City Star reports. Sweepstakes entrants agree to allow BCBS to fax a form letter in their names to their senators and representatives. They can also enter the sweepstakes without sending a fax, but that option is "alluded to in small print" on the sweepstakes' main page, the Star reports. "The goal of a sweepstakes like this is to get people's attention long enough to learn about the issue and decide whether they want to take action," Pam Fielding, who heads e-advocates, the consulting firm that created the sweepstakes, said (Stearns, Kansas City Star, 8/1). Opponents say the bill would exempt AHPs from some state regulations regarding coverage minimums and premiums. Instead, the AHPs would be regulated by the less-stringent rules of the Department of Labor. As a result, critics say, the plans could skirt state-mandated coverage requirements, including coverage for mammograms, mental health and OB/GYN services; appeals for denied claims; and limits on how much sicker or older people can be charged (California Healthline, 6/20).
Supporters of the bill say AHPs would expand access to health insurance for small businesses (Kansas City Star, 8/1). They add that the bill has restrictions to prohibit pricing based on individuals' health, that AHP coverage could not be denied to eligible workers and that all businesses that belong to a trade association would be able to purchase employee coverage (California Healthline, 6/20). The bill's supporters say that BCBS opposes AHPs because they give small businesses an alternative to their health plans, which "dominate" the market, the Star reports (Kansas City Star, 8/1). Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), who supports the bill, said that the sweepstakes "introduces a monetary incentive into what should be an open and honest expression of opinion" (CongressDaily, 8/1). He added that the BCBS campaign is "deceptive" because it does not say that the bill aims to insure the uninsured and because it does not explain how AHPs could harm BCBS' business, the Star reports. Talent has sent a letter to other senators to inform them of the sweepstakes, and he plans to speak against it on the Senate floor, the Star reports (Kansas City Star, 8/1).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.