Citizens Confront Wellpoint: Giant Insurer a Poster-Child for Abusive Practices
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Sheila Burke, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and a veteran of the George W. Bush adminstration, also sits on the board of the Chubb Corporation, one of the nation's largest property and casualty insurance companies. John Zuccotti, is co-chairman of Brookfield Properties, a real estate firm based in Toronto, and senior counsel of Weil, Gotshal and Manges, a global corporate law firm based in New York City. He also sits on the board of Emigrant Savings Bank and the Dreyfus Investment Corporation. Julie Hill (a California real estate entrepreneur), Jane Pisano (president of the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles and a former executive at the University of Southern California), and Lenox Baker, Jr. (a heart surgeon and president of Mid-Atlantic Cardiothoracic Surgeons in Norfolk, Va.) also sit on the WellPoint board.
These individuals -- and their counterparts on the boards of the other major private health insurance companies -- are not evil people. Many serve on the boards of various charities and are civic leaders in their communities. But in their roles as board members of WellPoint, they serve the interests of the company and thus against the interests of the majority of Americans who want and need health insurance reform.
Forbes wrote that Braly "is trying to put a kind face on this controversial business." Braly gets paid big bucks to defend what is indefensible -- WellPoint's slimy practices that put profits over people.
In 2007, for example, WellPoint "settled lawsuits with 10 patients who claimed that their policies were canceled after an injury or diagnosis," according to Forbes. (WellPoint had argued that the patients had concealed preexisting conditions -- in other words, that they were sick!)
Parvin Mottaghi's doctors determined, after cardiology tests and laboratory results, that her breathing difficulties resulted from a heart problem, according to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR), now called Consumer Watchdog. WellPoint's California subsidiary (now known as Anthem Blue Cross) authorized open heart surgery to repair a defective heart valve. Her doctors performed the surgery at Cedars Sinai on September 1, 2005, but on March 21, 2006, the insurance company rescinded her coverage, leaving Parvin with about $100,000 in medical bills.
Another victim, Michael Norris, was left with $15,000 in medical bills when the insurer retroactively canceled his son's coverage following a surgery.
"WellPoint is getting fat by breaking its promises to patients. Overturning insurance coverage after patients get sick is a devastating abuse that must stop," said Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. "These illegal retroactive cancellations make a mockery of health insurance." The company ended up paying $10 million, reinstating policy holders' plans and covering their accrued medical expenses.
In 2007, California brought charges against WellPoint's California subsidiary, alleging that the company retroactively canceled health insurance policies of more than 6,000 policyholders. The class action suit ended in a settlement, including a $1 million fine
Forbes also noted that "doctors in several states have filed class actions claiming WellPoint plans withhold payments." In addition, Forbes observed, WellPoint was "the only health insurer in California actively opposing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to provide everyone with health insurance."
On September 2, Consumer Watchdog accused WellPoint and another insurance giant, UnitedHealth Group, of pressuring employees to lobby against healthcare reform in Congress in violation of a California law against coerced political activity, according to the Los Angeles Times. The group asked California Attorney General Jerry Brown to investigate its claim that the two corporations. pressured workers to write their elected officials, attend town hall meetings, and enlist family and friends to lobby for an industry-friendly bill.