It passed in a flash, sailing over the heads of dozens of reporters and cruising through the House as a routine correction of Medicare law. But when the dust settled last week on the health-insurance legislation on Capitol Hill, consumer groups charged that one of the world’s largest insurance companies had slipped an amendment into the bill weakening consumer protections for the elderly.
The little-noticed language would toss out a requirement that salesmen notify Medicare recipients that the policies they are selling “duplicate” some of the benefits paid for by the government program. This “would return us to the days of ripping off seniors by unscrupulous insurance salesman,” said Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark, D-Calif.
Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., charged that greedy agents had sold one elderly man 37 different policies before a ban on duplicate sales went into effect, and Consumers Union said the House’s action would “turn the clock back by … eliminating the disclosure requirements that were designed to inform consumers about potential wasteful duplication.”
The Senate bill is silent on the issue. A conference committee working out differences between the two bills will have the power to take or leave it. It is one of a score of disagreements between the two chambers, but its low profile makes it more likely to survive as a technical correction in a complex overhaul.
Stark charged that the new anti-duplication provision was a “payoff” for campaign contributions from the American Life Assurance Co., whose parent company is called AFLAC.
AFLAC sells cancer insurance and other forms of supplemental health coverage to 35 million policyholders in the United States and overseas. In recent congressional elections it has contributed more than $500,000 to candidates of both parties. It is the 73rd-largest contributor to Congress, ranking fifth among insurance companies.
Congress banned the sale of health-insurance policies that duplicate Medicare benefits several years ago to prevent insurance salesmen from loading up elderly citizens with worthless health policies that cover benefits Medicare already pays for.