Ethics

Don't Buy Insurers' Junk -- Or Let Them Keep Selling It

Members of Congress and the Obama administration have assured us that on January 1, 2014, junk health insurance plans -- which offer only the illusion of adequate coverage to the millions of Americans enrolled in them -- will become a thing of the past.

Fake health insurance signAmong those who clearly don't believe those plans are headed for extinction are the insurance companies that market these highly profitable plans, and the employers that buy them -- primarily restaurant chains and retailers with high employee turnover.

If I were President Obama, I would send one of my aides to the Chicago suburbs later this week to see first-hand just how determined these companies are to continue selling these plans -- which are euphemistically called "mini-med" and "limited-benefit policies" -- long past 2014.

ALEC Ties Bring Down British Defense Secretary, Threaten Prime Minister David Cameron

British Defense Secretary Liam Fox has stepped down in the midst of an escalating scandal tied to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The ALEC connections have led opposition party leaders and the British press to question whether British Prime Minister David Cameron has been "allowing a secret rightwing agenda to flourish at the heart of the Conservative party."

The Battle Between O'Dwyer and PRSA

Jack O'DwyerThe Public Relations Society of America, the trade group for the American public relations industry, and Jack O'Dwyer, who has specialized in reporting on the PR industry for over 40 years, are at war, and the battle is getting heated -- and harmful for PRSA.

Why should people care about this obscure fight? Because the conflict is a microcosm of the battle against the unethical and harmful PR trends that are hurting this country.

Health Care Reform Opponents Winning the PR War

The Kaiser Family Foundation just released the findings of its annual survey of businesses to determine how much the cost of employer-sponsored health coverage has gone up. There were some unexpected findings.

Expensive health careOne was that the average cost of annual premiums for family coverage is now more than $15,000. The 9 percent increase in the cost of health insurance over last year caught many people by surprise because it represented a bigger hike in premiums than in recent years.

Health Care Front Group Provides New Clothes for GOP Medicare Privatization Plan

Wolf in sheep's clothingIf you think Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to privatize Medicare is dead, think again.

Last week, the insurance industry and its allies began what I predict will be a massive campaign to sell the public and policymakers on the idea of moving forward with the Ryan plan -- albeit with a few tweaks and new a new sales pitch to make it seem more consumer-friendly.

An outfit called the Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC) announced in a press release a scheme that could be called Ryan-lite, but don't be fooled: the plan would -- to use a favorite industry term -- take us down the "slippery slope" toward a complete corporate takeover of the Medicare program. (Insurers and their allies for years have warned Americans that enacting sweeping health care reforms they don't like would lead us down the slippery slope toward socialism.)

Walgreens' "Million Hearts" HealthWashing Ploy

smoking heartOn September 13, 2011, Walgreens announced it is partnering with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in a "new effort to fight heart disease" called the "Million Hearts Initiative." Walgreens says the goal is to help prevent one million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years by "finding ways to reduce the number of people who need treatment and improve the quality of treatment for those who need it." The chain's press release about the  Initiative says heart disease and stroke are the first and third leading causes of death, respectively. What Walgreens doesn't say is that while it searches for ways to prevent heart disease, the chain also continues to sell one of the nation's leading causes of heart disease and stroke: cigarettes. Not only that, but when the city of San Francisco passed an ordinance in 2008 banning pharmacies from selling cigarettes (based on the logic that as health-promoting businesses, pharmacies should not promote smoking) Walgreens fought the measure. The chain even issued an
action alert (pdf) saying it needed to keep selling cigarettes to help people quit
smoking. When that failed, Walgreens sued the city of San Francisco to try and block the ordinance. When the court threw out Walgreens' suit, the chain filed an appeal to continue the challenge.

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GOP Backs Insurance Industry-Friendly, Anti-Consumer Bills

House Republicans, unable to repeal President Obama's health care reform law outright, have decided to go after it piece by piece. If they are successful, what's likely to remain is the kind of reform the insurance industry dreamed of, but never really thought could be the law of the land.

Health insurance costsAlthough the Republican-controlled House passed legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act several months ago, the Senate, controlled by Democrats, rejected it. Bills are now being considered in the House that would strip some of the most important consumer protections from the new law. If the bills' sponsors are successful, health insurers would be free to spend as little of our premium dollars on our health care as they want, and they would be able to continue setting lifetime limits on policies and cancel our coverage at the time we need it most -- when we get sick. Other important benefits to consumers would also disappear.

Capitalizing on Pain: The Growing Business of 9/11

Scottsdale, AZ-based Stingray Sushi's "9-11 Remembrance roll"Businesses are seeking to cash in on the emotion generated by the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks by selling 9-11 related swag. The vintner Lieb Cellars released 9-11 commemorative bottles of wine priced at $19.11 per bottle, with "up to 10 percent" of the proceeds going to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Reebok is offering 9/11 commemorative sneakers and gloves, and a website called Ruby Lane is selling 9/11 commemorative cribbage boards with the words "Never Forget" emblazoned on them for $115. An assortment of 9-11 musical snow globes are for sale on EBay, including one that "features a revolving subway on the base of the globe that plays the theme of New York, New York when the globe is cranked." Consumers also need to be on the lookout for rip-offs involving the sale of 9/11 commemorative coins. A website cleverly named Govmint.com is charging a whopping $495 each for $1 Silver Eagle coins dated 2001 that it claims came from a vault that was dug up from under the rubble of the twin towers.

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Dining on Deceit: PR Stunt Backfires for ConAgra

LasagnaFood and family bloggers across New York received invitations from celebrity TV chef George Duran to attend an exclusive meal at an intimate underground Italian restaurant that had just popped up in the Village called Sotto Terra. The invitation promised "a delicious four-course meal," the Chef's "one-of-a-kind sangria," a discussion about food trends from a food industry analyst and "an unexpected surprise." Upon confirming attendance, bloggers got extra tickets to give away to their readers. But instead of a fresh Italian meal prepared by Duran, diners were quietly served Marie Callender's Three Meat and Four Cheese Lasagna, a frozen food line produced by ConAgra.

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