Should MyPoints Award Points for Political Action?
Today I received a MyPoints BonusMail email message with the unusual subject line “Tell Congress to Protect Seniors’ Medical Benefits.” That subject line immediately piqued my interest because of its political nature. I was, however, immediately troubled because I knew the focus of MyPoints is to award consumers points for their clicks and actions. Even worse, I quickly saw this email was lobbying a specific political agenda and rewarded consumers for contacting Congress and sending them a suggested message.
What follows is some basic information on MyPoints and a detailed walk through this specific BonusMail message and its call to action. I have included full quotes and a few screen captures for details.
As stated on their company information section of their website, MyPoints:
[P]rovides advertisers with an effective means to reach a large online audience with targeted marketing campaigns. The MyPoints program also enables consumers to earn points-based rewards by responding to email offers, completing online surveys, shopping online and engaging in other online activities. Rewards points are redeemable in the form of third-party gift cards and other benefits from over 60 merchants, including retailers, theaters, restaurants, airlines and hotels.
The body of the BonusMail message MyPoints sent me today contained the following message personalized to me:
Mike, Congress made a solemn promise to America’s seniors to supply more affordable medical care, but now they’re limiting seniors’ access to doctors, making it harder for them to get the care they need. Tell Congress to protect seniors’ access to doctors.
With over 3.2 million baby boomers becoming eligible for Medicare in three short years, and a government-predicted shortage of 85,000 doctors by 2020, doctor payment cuts will create an access-to-care crisis for America’s seniors.
If Congress doesn’t act soon, Medicare doctor payment cuts will hurt America’s patients. Doctors will be forced to defer the purchase of new medical equipment and information technology; seniors will have a harder time finding medical and surgical specialists and will have to travel greater distances to see a doctor; and more Medicare patients will be forced to go to expensive emergency rooms for routine care that could have been treated in a doctor’s office.
S. 2785, The Save Medicare Act of 2008, has been introduced in the Senate. This bill would stop the Medicare physician payment cuts for 18 months, long enough to begin working on a long-term solution to the broken payment system. In addition, the bill will not increase the cost of permanently fixing the fatally flawed Medicare physician payment system. Urge your U.S. senators to co-sponsor this legislation and tell all your representatives in Congress to stop doctor payment cuts.
Following this message there was a prominent “get your points” section as shown below (click image to enlarge):
Clicking the “get points” button illustrated above brings one to a form page shown below (click image to enlarge) with a simple message urging readers to contact Congress on behalf of the American Medical Association as shown below. (Strangely the stock photos do not contain pictures of seniors. The most prominent image is that of a pregnant woman.)
Filling out this form and clicking the “go to step 2 – to send a letter to Congress” button shown above produces a list of both my Senators by name and my Representative by name. The following instructions are provided:
Tell Congress to make good on their promise to Americaâ€™s families today! Call Congress using our toll-free grassroots hotline at (xxx) xxx-6200. Or, you can send an e-mail to their offices by clicking below.
Please note that MyPoints points are only awarded for sending the email. Below these instructions are two email messages. The first email is for my Senators and is ready for me to click and send. It reads as follows:
On July 1, doctors and their patients will be hit by a 10 percent Medicare cutâ€”with an additional 5 percent cut coming a mere six months laterâ€”unless Congress acts now.
These proposed cuts are a huge problem for patientsâ€”and for many familiesâ€”because they will prevent doctors from taking on new Medicare patients, discourage many from investing in new health technology and make some think about closing their medical practices altogether.
Pleaseâ€”do not delay. Take action now to ensure that doctors and the patients who need them do not suffer from more cuts to Medicare payments. Take care of our doctors so they can take care of us.
The second email is for my Representative and reads as follows:
Did you know that an American Medical Association survey found that 60 percent of physicians said a projected 10 percent Medicare payment cut will force them to limit the number of new Medicare patients they can treat?
Further, about 25 percent of Medicare patients seeking a new primary care physician already have problems finding one, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, the group that advises Congress on Medicare. Couple that fact with a government-predicted shortage of 85,000 doctors by 2020 and the first wave of baby boomers turning 65 in three short years, and the future for Medicare patientsâ€™ access to care is bleak, unless we take steps to turn the tide.
I know youâ€™re aware that a deep, 10% Medicare physician payment cut is scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2008. Please, I implore you to make sure these cuts donâ€™t go through, for fear that more doctors discover they can no longer take care of those who need it most.
Our doctors are always there to take care of us â€“ shouldnâ€™t we finally return the favor?
At the bottom of this page there is a “Take Action!” button to send the emails. I noticed that the email messages are user-editable so readers could presumably write their own letters or edit the default wording. I didn’t see any subject line listed or way to edit one.
MyPoints members are awarded 5 points for visiting the AMAj’s Patients’ Action Network page shown above. If a member takes action by sending the emails to Congress they will receive 50 points.
I’m all for citizen input and contacting Congress and making our voices heard. I also support group efforts to mobilize concerned citizens around focal issues. However, I’m concerned about this incentivized procedure undertaken by MyPoints and the American Medical Association. I’ll explain below.
MyPoints is part of the Classmates Media Corporation and reported that “as of September 30, 2007, more than 8.8 million members were registered with MyPoints, 6.0 million of whom were registered to receive email marketing messages from the company.” As such, MyPoints owns a large database of consumers motivated to receive points for actions. Combine this with the lobbying efforts of the American Medical Association and you have a potentially powerful force of compensated letter-writers influencing public policy along a specific agenda.
Members of Congress know most people don’t write or voice their opinion. I’ve been told they tend to assume that for every one person’s input there are probably 100 or so others who are in agreement and feel strongly along the same lines but simply didn’t write or call about the issue. The American Medical Association knows this too and is using the MyPoints database and incentive structure to generate potentially millions of emails to members of Congress in an effort to influence public policy in their favor. Assuming one only fills out the form and clicks all the required buttons, the MyPoints/American Medical Association process takes only about 45 seconds to complete. The result is 55 easy points earned by the member action (5 for reading and 50 more for sending the emails).
I feel it is disingenuous for anyone or any organization to drum up “public support” using such tactics and the American Medical Association should be ashamed for pulling this stunt on Congress and ultimately the taxpaying public. To an unknowing outsider or member of Congress, the incoming emails may look like democracy in action and a flood of public support; however, in my opinion, this process is more like bribery in action and trickery by a powerful lobbying organization with a self-serving political agenda.
What do you think? Should something be done about this MyPoints/American Medical Association partnership? Should MyPoints incentivize public policy actions?