Federal Communications Commission efforts to protect mobile telephone users from annoying cell phone calls are interfering with health plans’ efforts to keep people healthy, a health insurance executive told members of Congress Thursday.
Michelle Turano, a vice president at Tampa, Florida-based WellCare Health Plans, an insurer active in the Medicare and Medicaid plan markets, testified at a hearing in Washington that FCC is being even tougher on health insurers than the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services when it comes to regulating plans’ use of automated telephone dialing systems.
A health plan or its vendor “calling to offer a flu shot or a reminder of an upcoming doctor’s appointment should be afforded the ability to contact their members and offer their services without the creation of legal liability,” Turano said at the hearing, which was organized by the House Energy & Commerce communications subcommittee.
“These are the exact same calls that health care providers can make today, but the FCC is silent as to whether managed health care companies can make these same sorts of calls,” Turano said.
The committee posted a video recording of the hearing on its section of the House website.
Lawmakers organized the hearing to look into the possibility of updating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, a law that governs telemarketing.
In 2003, the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission used a regulation connected with the TCPA to create a national Do-Not-Call list, or registry for people who want telemarketers to stop calling them.
The FCC has also used TCPA regulations to limit use of automated dialing systems, and to try to protect cell phone users with usage-based payment plans against calls and messages that might increase their charges.
In 2015, the FCC issued a declaratory order stating that a health care provider can call or send text messages to a cell phone number provided by a patient, if the provider keeps calls to less than a minute and text messages to less than 160 characters; if the provider attempts three or fewer communications to the cell phone per week; and if the communications deal solely with issues such as appointment confirmations and lab test results, not with billing matters or other financial matters.
The FCC ruled that a health care provider can place automatically dialed calls to cell phones “only if they are not charged to the recipient, including not being counted against any plan limits that apply to the recipient,” according to the order text.