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Consumer Watchdog Releases Coercive Lobbying E-Mail to Employees of United Health Group, Calls It 'Political Harassment' of Workers

Friday, December 11, 2009 Corporate News J E 4
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Message demands that workers "confirm with your supervisor" that they will attend online meeting with top corporate lobbyist

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- An e-mail sent Wednesday to employees of United Health Group uses highly coercive language to urge workers to attend a web presentation by the company's top lobbyist, said Consumer Watchdog. The e-mail tells employees to "confirm your ability to attend with your supervisor." (See the full letter below).

"This demand that workers attend a virtual meeting about company lobbying messages, on company time, is political harassment," says Judy Dugan, research director for Consumer Watchdog. "A later statement in the e-mail that participation is voluntary is a joke, after telling employees to 'confirm' participation with a supervisor."

The 30-minute "Webinar," plus time spent sending company-written letters or company-written phone messages to Congress, means every employee involved is likely to use an hour of work time, with the cost coming out of policyholder premiums, said Consumer Watchdog.

The e-mail says in part:

Health care reform is at a critical moment with the Senate considering proposed legislation. Join United for Health Reform for a status update on this important debate! United for Health Reform will be hosting a webinar on Tuesday, December 15, 2009 from 1:00-1:30 PM CDT to provide an update on the health care reform debate in Washington, D.C., discuss how to get involved, and answer your questions. Please join us for this conference call hosted by Jud Sommer, Senior Vice President, UnitedHealth Group Government Affairs. Sign up here to join this webinar and you will be provided the sign-in information. As with all events held during business hours, please confirm your ability to attend with your supervisor.

United Health Group has previously sent e-mails to employees asking them to lobby members of Congress on company time, with company assistance, though using less blatant language. The company is clearly able to track employee e-mails to see who responds to the requests, said Consumer Watchdog.

Previous efforts offered template letters with key company messages including the need for a more punitive mandate to buy insurance, resistance to any so-called public option and opposition to any reduction in Medicare overpayments to private Medicare Advantage plans. United HealthCare is a major participant in Medicare Advantage.

(See more on previous employee lobbying efforts at http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/patients/articles/?storyId=31128)

(See the earlier template letters and company instructions for letters to the editor at http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org/resources/UnitedHealthCare11-12-09.pdf)

Consumer Watchdog sent the latest e-mail to California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, which was investigating possible violations of the state's strong employee protections against employer coercion. The earlier e-mails were also sent to Brown's office.

"United Health Group employees who have contacted Consumer Watchdog said they were offended and upset, but expressed fear of retaliation by United Health Group if they complained publicly about the pressure on them to contact members of Congress," said Dugan.

Consumer Watchdog, however, urges California employees who feel pressured by the company's employee lobbying effort to call the attorney general's public inquiry line at (916) 322-3360 or (800) 952-5225 (in California) Callers should wait through the message and press "0" to talk to a human.

Callers should inquire about job protections if they file a complaint.

United Health Group E-Mail:

Here is the full e-mail from United Health Group's health care lobbying arm, "United for Health Reform." Because it was converted from HTML format, the web links now show as web addresses.

From: United for Health Reform Update

Sent: Dec 9, 2009 11:10 AM

Subject: Invitation to Join United for Health Reform Legislative Update Webinar - December 15, 2009

United for Health Reform http://images.capwiz.com/unitedhealth/images/logo.gif

Health care reform is at a critical moment with the Senate considering proposed legislation. Join United for Health Reform for a status update on this important debate!

United for Health Reform will be hosting a webinar on Tuesday, December 15, 2009 from 1:00-1:30 PM CDT to provide an update on the health care reform debate in Washington, D.C., discuss how to get involved, and answer your questions. Please join us for this conference call hosted by Jud Sommer, Senior Vice President, UnitedHealth Group Government Affairs. Sign up here http://video.webexlivestream.com/events/pmny001/viewer/index.jsp?eventid=33229 to join this webinar and you will be provided the sign-in information. As with all events held during business hours, please confirm your ability to attend with your supervisor.

We invite you to submit questions in advance of the call to hcreform@uhc.com.

Please visit www.unitedforhealthreform.com to find out more about ways to get involved. If you are logging in to the United for Health Reform website for the first time, click here: http://www.unitedforhealthreform.com/people/forgot to input your work email address to retrieve your password. Your password will be emailed to you immediately.

While we encourage you to add your perspective to this important debate, your participation is voluntary, and you may express any personal position or opinion. If you do participate, remember that you are acting on your own behalf not on behalf of the company. UnitedHealth Group believes in expressing its views in a constructive, respectful manner, and we urge you to do the same.

Consumer Watchdog is a nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and Santa Monica, CA. Find us on the web at: http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org.

SOURCE Consumer Watchdog
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