Humana Trolls College Campuses for Whores

Internet-crimeHere’s good news for college and university students desperate for a part-time job that won’t even require leaving a dorm room.

Humana, Inc., the fine and good corporate citizen that spends millions of its customer’s premium dollars to fight health care reform and a public option rather than using them to pay claims, now wants to use even more premium bucks to pay students willing to sneak on-line at places such as Facebook and Twitter to tout the horrors of any change to America’s superb health care delivery and financing system.

In other words, Humana is trolling college campuses looking for whores willing to accept money to be on-line promoters of an anti-reform policy that’s against the student’s own, best interests – or will be, once they leave school and are on their own. Given the state of the economy, no doubt Humana will be overwhelmed with applications.

On Monday morning, blogger Molly Horan reports that Humana is actively recruiting students to develop and implement viral media strategies designed to undermine support for health care reform among their unsuspecting peers, making the whole thing appear as if it’s coming from just another tea party protester who can use a computer.

Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission is one step ahead of Humana.

New Disclosure Rules
Beginning December 1, bloggers and TV shows alike will have to disclose if they’re getting cash for mentioning or touting a product or idea. Clearly, Humana’s paid corps of anti-reform student zealots will have to mention they’re getting more than a penny for their thoughts.

As N.E. Marsden wrote Friday in an Op-Ed piece at the Washington Post, “bloggers and, more important, stealth corporate marketers (must) post ‘clear and conspicuous’ disclosures when they receive payment for endorsing online. … The principle is sound: People have a right to know when someone is trying to sell them something.”

While I’m all in favour of the free marketplace of ideas, when the ideas are being slipped to a writer in exchange for cash, I’d like to know who’s footing the bill. This is on a par with George Bush paying Iraqi journalists in 2005 to write glowing articles on the glorious wonders of the American invasion and occupation.

Humana’s strategy gives a new and broader meaning to its slogan, “Guidance when you need it most.” Under the circumstances, it might be more appropriate as “Guidance we pay for when we need you to shill for us.”

Is Everyone a Fraud?
Look, I know times are tough. Jobs scarce. The future scary. Real health care and insurance reform a toss-up. So, having been one once, I can’t really blame journalism students for trying to grab a bit of spare change where they can – although, hopefully, some will have the integrity to see the offer for what it is, and reject the idea of applying out-of-hand.

Still, I can’t help but shudder when I read the job posting:

Humana – Guidance when you need it most
Role: Political Communications Specialist (part-time, limited-term)
Location: Chicago, Ill. or work-at-home

Are you interested in politics and political communication? Have a way with words? Know your way around Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere? Put your skills to work where politics, communication and public relations intersect. You will:

• Help manage and track a variety of online (“Web 2.0”) channels

• Build a strategic new media and social media presence

• Contribute content for both traditional and new media

• Get a “foot in the door” and gain valuable experience in one of today’s most challenging and fast-paced public policy arenas – health care

This is PR flackery, pure and simple, and of the worst kind. Humana is trying to lure virgin minds onto the rocks of whoredom by singing a siren song promising money and “valuable experience” in exchange for selling out America.

It’s ethical fraud; not illegal but definitely immoral.

Of course, it turns out there’s as much ethical fraud being committed by mainstream and highly respected journalists, as well.

A week ago, the lead story on CBS’ 60 Minutes covered the supposed $60-billion fraud in Medicare payments. I sat watching it dumbfounded, wondering if this might pound a huge nail in the coffin of the public option. Pierre Tristam had the same reaction. But then, he decided to confirm the 60 Minutes reporting.

Tristam is an editorial writer for the Daytona News Journal. He started by calling the show’s producers who referred him to the person at the Justice Department who worked with 60 Minutes which, he eventually admitted, used a high figure in the “range” of “possible” and “believed to be” Medicare fraud.

So Tristam kept digging, finally publishing a remarkable Sunday piece titled “Loose With Numbers: Medicare Fraud Report A Fiction.”

“Steve Kroft and his producers never bothered to trace their facts to the source for viewers, relying instead on the slob-journalist’s cheapest cop-out: Attribution by estimates. Nor did they make the equally important point: Insurance fraud isn’t unique to Medicare or government-run programs. If anything, it affects the private sector more. Shame on “60 Minutes” and the Justice Department for throwing around wild numbers. Those are the numbers – the fictions – shaping public opinion across the country and public policy in Washington.


“Medicare fraud is a serious problem. But singling it out and exaggerating it beyond credibility won’t fix it, although it may help doom any government expansion of health care. In that regard, the 60 Minutes segment did its death-panel best.”

I feel as if the whole world has turned into the 1919 Chicago Black Sox, sneaking around behind everyone’s back, putting in the fix, and damning the consequences – or the rest of us.

A special h/t to Breandan Healy

Charley James
The Progressive Curmudgeon


  1. Stan Lipinsky says

    Yes, Virginia. Including your comments, which no doubt further your own agenda. Motives aside, I actually don’t blame the insurance companies for doing this. Unfortunately, so much uninformed information, misleading propaganda and blatant lies from all sides is propogated within all forms of media, it takes a symphony of communication platforms to penetrate the armour of misinformation that the average person lugs around.

    For full disclosure, I’m a physician. Doctors share the blame for the current state, I know. But I would say that the vast majority of the population doesn’t understand the true drivers of the health care cost crisis, which in my opinion revolve around the fee-for-service reimbursement structure (which Medicare and Medicaid are the basis for), as well as a lack of focus on preventative care and quality of care. Villifying the insurance companies is not going to solve the problem. In fact, they are better positioned to help than any other industry player. They operate with the extremely heavy regulatory environment that has been created for them by the federal and state governments.

    You can’t blame health insurance companies for trying to get their side of the story heard. Last I checked, they are covered by the First Amendment, just like the rest of us. It’s unfortunate the average Joe doesn’t have the wherewithall to make the effort to dig in and understand the problem so they can know when the wool is being pulled over their eyes, whether by insurance companies, or by Virginia Hoge.

  2. Virginia Hoge says

    The whole media genre of Commenting has been corrupted.

    Comments are very effective communication and this has been manipulated to incredibly devious ends.

  3. says

    UPDATE – Nov 3, 2009

    It’s not just Humana that’s looking for students to be on-line trollers. Israel is also looking for people, according to the website Desert Peace:

    “The Foreign Ministry unveiled a new plan this week: Paying talkbackers to post pro-Israel responses on websites worldwide. A total of NIS 600,000 (roughly $150,000) will be earmarked to the establishment of an “Internet warfare” squad.

    “The Foreign Ministry intends to hire young people who speak at least one language and who study communication, political science, or law – or alternately, Israelis with military experience gained at units dealing with information analysis.”

    And so it goes.

  4. says

    @ Tubby …

    There is more to the job posting that I included in my article, and as Molly Horan noted in her comment, it’s posted in full at her blog (linked in the article). The full listing shows precisely what’s on Humana’s mind. Why do you think they are looking for college students? Do you believe that want to hire people to blog or Tweet about health insurance reform honestly?

    Moreover, although Humana’s human resources department would not comment on any details of the job, it did confirm that the company posted the job listing.


  5. Molly says

    Tubby, why don’t you apply for this position and let us know what Humana expects you to do, if you apply, with your “abundant creativity.”

    It is obvious and straightforward. The job is for young, media-savvy, college students or recent grads to use Twitter and Facebook and other blogging platforms to build a web precense for Humana’s position on the health care public policy arena.


    You point to a lack of credible sources. James cites my blog, and I cite the entire job posting.

    Please read it again and tell me what inferences are being blown out of proportion.

    The fact that no other “credible sources” are being cited points to the larger issue: these kinds of stories don’t recieve coverage. That doesn’t mean the occurance isn’t substantive evidence for some serious journalism, it means that what is readily available on the internet isn’t being interpreted and presented to the public enough for the public to know who is really behind the “traditional and new media” articles defending health insurance companies. Paid health insurance lobbyists.

    I have addressed this situation further on my blog. Read that, too.

    Perhaps all that these student twitterists will do is write positive stories about what health insurance companies have done. That doesn’t address the gaping black hole of what health insurance companies haven’t done: created a marketplace of health products that are available to all citizens.

    I know plenty of people who are satisfied with their health insurance coverage. They are fortunate enough to have had the money to continue their coverage at all times, to pay for COBRA benefits between jobs, etc. But these are the same types people who have to distribute thousands of flyers asking the public for help to cover expensive, life-saving procedures.

    You’ve never heard, “our insurance won’t cover it?”

    Reality is the credible source, Tubby.

    Let me know if you have any further thoughts.

  6. Virginia Hoge says

    and this situation is lucky if the FTC gets involved at all,

    they have very few policies regarding the Internet.

  7. Virginia Hoge says

    You know just when you think you have “mined the depths” of right-wing unethical thinking…

    something like this comes along. Recruiting college students to troll against progressive reforms??

    This needs to be made illegal!

    This overt manipulation of human beings, their minds and opinions, in the service of dubious interests, is horrible.

  8. Tubby says

    This article does not offer any actual evidence of what it’s claiming Humana is trying to do – namely, “trolling college campuses looking for whores willing to accept money to be on-line promoters of an anti-reform policy”. The job posting certainly does not mention it, and since there is no other relevant source being cited, I have come to the obvious conclusion that this article is full of crap.


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