Astroturf lobbying is nothing new, of course. But a few years ago America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the industry’s trade group, began a concerted effort to goose its member insurers into beefing up their grassroots advocacy. To create a “leading-edge” program so the industry could “meet its challenges and set the health care agenda in Washington for years to come,” AHIP’s Grassroots Task Force laid out four objectives:
• Create a culture of advocacy across the industry
• Strengthen AHIP’s capability to mobilize allies
• Prepare the industry to meet long-term political challenges
• Bolster product-specific grassroots coalitions and capabilities
This last one is important for the media. The Coalition for Medicare Choices—one of what AHIP calls its “product coalitions”—is using its Web site to collect names of people it can call on to protest threatened cuts in the amount of money Medicare Advantage plans receive from the federal government. That site encourages Medicare beneficiaries to “Join more than 810,000 seniors and doctors to protect Medicare Advantage.” The Coalition, which was called into action last time there was a major effort to reduce funding for plans, also provides seniors with links to media stories about possible cuts—although not to any that CJR’s Campaign Desk has published.
So there you have it—grassroots advocacy from a major insurance company and grassroots advocacy from one of the industry’s product coalitions. How’s that for synergy? That might be what AHIP’s task force had in mind. It’s a potent combination that the public might want to know about, in case they are unwittingly used to further an agenda that may not be theirs.