Flashback to the time Humana sued NBC for making fun of their name

St. Elsewhere

Earlier today I received a first: A "cease & desist"-type email from Humana Inc's "Sales Integrity Department" asking me to remove their logo from a blog post about the company:

Dear Website Owner:

Humana encourages agents and agencies (collectively, “Agents”) to promote the Humana Brand in a manner that complies with applicable laws and Humana’s own policies and procedures.

Internet-based capabilities are providing new and interactive ways to sell Humana products and services. Although these capabilities offer tremendous opportunities, they also create responsibilities for Humana and its Agents to maintain a system of controls and monitoring.

The Sales Integrity Department at Humana has done a review of websites containing the Humana logo and we have detected your use of the logo...

...Humana has a policy regarding Agent use of Humana Company Content which can be accessed by clicking on the following link: Use of Company Content by Humana Agents. Please review the policy and be advised that any other use of Humana Company Content (e.g., specific plan or product information and services) beyond applying the current Humana logo must be submitted for approval as indicated in this policy.

As a reminder, Agents must comply with all state and federal regulations related to the sale and marketing of Humana products. If upon receipt of this correspondence you are not a contracted Agent with Humana, we request that you remove the Humana logo and any other Humana Company Content as defined in the policy referenced above.


I've already removed their logo from that blog entry, anyway (I also checked to see if it was used on any other blog entries over the years). That's no big deal. I should also note that the blog entry in question wasn't particularly critical of Humana.

However, I admit to being a bit confused about their repeated references to "agents" who "promote the Humana Brand." The wording of their email makes it sound like they think I'm an insurance broker or agent myself who's trying to hawk their products to my readers, which obviously isn't the case. I've already written back confirming removal of the logo and clarifying that I'm not an insurance broker or agent, just a healthcare policy blogger.

In any event, this does remind me of an incident from over 30 years ago which I hadn't thought about in a long time...via the Associated Press:

Humana Inc. Says ‘Elsewhere’ Portrayal Too Close For Comfort
September 30, 1987

PADUCAH, Ky. (AP) _ A federal judge Wednesday refused to prohibit the showing of NBC-TV’s ″St. Elsewhere,″ rejecting arguments from Humana Inc. that the show’s portrayal of the ″Ecumena″ hospital chain was too close for comfort.

U.S. District Judge Edward H. Johnstone issued his order just hours before the show’s scheduled air time after an NBC lawyer promised the network would run a disclaimer saying that ″Ecumena″ is not intended to represent a real company.

...Humana decided not to appeal, but said it would continue with its lawsuit, and Johnstone set a hearing for Oct. 8.

...Humana, the nation’s No. 2 hospital chain, had asked Johnstone for a restraining order to stop NBC from using the name ″Ecumena″ for the fictional owner of the hospital on the show pending a hearing on a lawsuit alleging trademark infringement.

...The script for the show called for the departure of Ed Flanders, who has played Dr. Donald Westphall since the show began. The episode itself was noted since Flanders dropped his pants at the conclusion to ″moon″ his hospital’s new owner.

When the Emmy-award winning ″St. Elsewhere″ debuted this season, it introduced ″Ecumena″ as the new owner for the hospital, St. Eligius.

Ecumena was portrayed as a for-profit hospital chain based in the Midwest that manages an artifical heart program.

Humana is a for-profit hospital chain based in Louisville, Ky., that is home to the only permanent artificial heart program in the United States.

...Cox said a disclaimer would be meaningless and offered in evidence a New York Post preview of the new ″St. Elsewhere″ season which noted that Ecumena ″sort of rhymes with Humana.″