ABC News ‘Drops the Ball’ on Disclosing Athlete’s Ties to Insurance Industry

ABC News ‘Drops the Ball’ on Disclosing Athlete’s Ties to Insurance Industry

ABC news story appears to be an advertisement for Secure Horizons insurance product

DECEMBER 15, 2006, SACRAMENTO, CAWith millions of Americans making critical health care decisions during Medicare’s Annual Election Period, California Health Advocates, a non-profit group serving California’s Medicare beneficiaries, is demanding that ABC News examine the way it discloses information about interview subjects who are appearing as paid representatives for the insurance industry.

On December 13th, many visitors to the popular internet site Yahoo!, watched an ABC News video clip titled: “Former NFL ‘Starr’ Tackles Healthcare”. The ‘Starr’ in the title was a reference to Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Bart Starr. The piece was meant to be a public interest story about his dedication to Medicare beneficiaries. The subtitle read, “Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr helps clarify Medicare choices for seniors” and featured footage of the former player and coach playing with children.

The story began with a warning that the Medicare program’s enrollment deadline is approaching and “with so many different options available, it can be confusing and even intimidating.” Enter Bart Starr to clarify the situation. When asked why the Hall-of-Famer got interested in Medicare advocacy, Starr repeats complaints about the complexity of the program but quickly advises that “you’ve got to get into the Advantage areas of Medicare,” referring to the optional Medicare Advantage plans where private insurance companies are responsible for delivering Medicare covered services within a required network. He went on to say, “gosh, it was so obvious that ‘Secure Horizons’ offered us the best plan that we could possibly imagine. We were ecstatic.”

Secure Horizons is one of the most prevalent providers of Medicare Advantage plans in the country. Adam Dorsey, Community Education Coordinator for California Health Advocates, was surprised that ABC News didn’t take a moment during the more than six minute piece to disclose Starr’s affiliation with United Health Group, parent company to Secure Horizons and the largest insurance company in the U.S. “It’s great to raise awareness about Medicare, but it was irresponsible for ABC News to present this as unbiased information,” Dorsey said. “The interviewer should have clarified that Starr was a paid spokesman.” An Associated Press report dated December 5th, 2006 confirmed the relationship between Starr and the company.

Around the state, advocates are concerned that they are fighting an uphill battle. With insurance companies spending millions on the marketing of their plans, beneficiaries are often bombarded with calls to buy one policy or another. Few seniors know where to turn for impartial information about their health care decisions.

Advocacy groups have some simple advice for Medicare beneficiaries when evaluating their choices. First, don’t feel pressured to make a decision by a salesperson. Second, do your homework and know what you are buying. Third, get help. In California, the Health Insurance Counseling & Advocacy Program (HICAP) provides objective, individual counseling on Medicare and helps people understand their choices. It is a publicly funded program that is free and available to everyone. The number for HICAP is 1-800-434-0222. Further Medicare information and resources are available at calmedicare.org. Outside of California, people can visit www.medicare.gov to find contact information for State Health Insurance Assistance Programs.

More information can be found at cahealthadvocates.org. The ABC News story was retrieved December 14th fromYahoo News.

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California Health Advocates is a nonprofit organization dedicated to timely and responsive education and advocacy efforts on behalf of California Medicare beneficiaries and the pre-retirement population. For more information about CHA, call (916) 231-5110 or visit www.cahealthadvocates.org

Karen Fletcher
Our blogger Karen J. Fletcher is CHA's publications consultant. She provides technical expertise, writing and research on Medicare, health disparities and other health care issues. With a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley, she serves in health advocacy as a trainer and consultant. See her current articles.

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