AstroTurf Watch

Introducing an occasional series spotlighting ersatz grass-roots lobbying by corporations.

As I noted earlier this week, the health insurance industry’s Campaign for an American Solution   launched a “listening tour” on July 22 “to facilitate conversations about how to expand health care coverage to every American, reduce costs and increase the quality of care.” How hard are the insurers listening? About as hard as they listen when you ask them to reconsider after they’ve denied your claim. On its Web site, the campaign invites citizens to “call us with your ideas at 800-289-1136.” But when I phoned that number today, I got the following message: “Thanks for calling the Coalition for an American Health Care Solution. No one is available to take your call right now, so please leave your name and number and a short message. Thank you!” The recording didn’t even bother with the usual (and usually insincere) promise that “someone will get back to you.”

The insurers’ nemesis, the labor-funded Health Care for America NOW!, discovered the phantom phone line and is having a field day with it. Asked to comment, Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for the health insurers, said, “We want to hear from all Americans. Our Web site allows people to share their stories and ideas.” Uh, right, but what about that phone number? “If nobody answers,” he told me, “they’re welcome to leave a message.”

(Trivia point: The same phone number was previously used in a lobby campaign by the Poker Players Alliance, whose chairman is former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato of New York, aka “Senator Pothole.” The alliance, which represents the online gaming industry, fought unsuccessfully against a bill restricting online poker.)