As you no doubt recall, Humana, a big player in the Medicare Advantage field, recently sent letters to its clients detailing what effect Obama administration plans would have on their health care. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which administer these programs, promptly ordered Humana to stop with the mailings already.

Richard Epstein, a law professor and Forbes magazine scholar, has a compelling piece on the Humana gag order, a distressing challenge to the right of free speech. But first, why do senior citizens like Medicare Advantage so much—and why does the administration like it so little? Epstein has a succinct description of the program:

Medicare Advantage is a recently instituted federal program that allows individuals eligible for Medicare to opt to take their coverage from a private carrier, such as a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) of Preferred Provider Organization (PPO). These MA deals usually offer somewhat better coverage at a somewhat higher price. The entire program is meant to introduce competition into the Medicare market–which places it in the Obama administration’s cross hairs now that its crusade for health care reform has stalled.

The threat is twofold—to older citizens who like their Medicare Advantage, and to all citizens who like to speak their minds. It also shows how clutzy government is in dealing with problems. Epstein notes:

This highhanded action offers yet one more potent reason to oppose the further government regulation or nationalization of just about anyone. The risk is that government agents will squelch protests with administrative sanctions, which they could never get courts to sanction through ordinary legal processes. Any private supporter of the administration gets, of course, a free pass because its statement could never be “misleading or confusing.” The state action thus skews the terms of public debate, not only for health care, but for every industry that depends on government checks, licenses or permits to stay in business.