WellPoint is the nation’s second largest health care provider and largest Blue Cross/Blue Shield organization, providing health coverage to one in nine Americans. WellPoint operates in 14 states.
WellPoint executives have been at the forefront of seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which extends care to millions more Americans and reforms abusive insurance company practices.
In 2010, as health care reform was being debated, WellPoint’s practice of cutting off health insurance to women recently diagnosed with breast cancer was exposed in a Reuters investigative story. According to Reuters, WellPoint officials had developed a complex computer algorithm to identify policyholders with newly diagnosed breast cancer. This was not WellPoint’s first controversy related to illegal cancellations for patients with costly diseases. In 2008, WellPoint settled claims brought by California regulators by restoring the cancelled coverage of more than 2,000 policyholders, and agreeing to cover up to $14 million of expenses policyholders incurred after being illegally terminated.
Shareholders at WellPoint’s 2012 annual meeting are questioning company CEO Angela Braly about the company’s role in the transfer of $86 million from the industry’s trade association to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2010 to fight the health care reform legislation as it made its way through Congress.
WellPoint’s management are also using shareholder dollars to support right-wing politicians, particular those opposing health care reform and opposing workers’ rights to unionize. A 2011 Bloomberg headline proclaimed ”WellPoint Joins Koch Help Fight Wisconsin State Senate Recall.” The article explains that WellPoint executives have invested heavily in Republican organizations working to defend Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and other Wisconsin legislators in their recall fight. WellPoint is among the top corporate donors fighting recall efforts, having given $450,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee and another $250,000 to the Republican Governors Association. On top of this, WellPoint gave another $842,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee during the 2010 election cycle. About three-quarters of WellPoint’s political investments are made in Republican candidates.
Health Care for America Now (HCAN), a coalition of more than 1,000 grassroots groups representing 30 million Americans supporting health care reform, last summer challenged WellPoint’s CEO Braly about the company’s involvement in the Wisconsin recall campaign. “Why is it in the interest of WellPoint to take away the ability of workers to bargain for a better life? We question whether WellPoint is fulfilling its fiduciary obligations to its investors by alienating organized labor in this manner since such a large percentage of your company’s enrollees are union members,” wrote HCAN Executive Director Ethan Rome.
WellPoint has had it own problems with employees. Last year the company settled an age discrimination suit agreeing to distribute $2.6 million to 150 plaintiffs. In 2008, the company was sued by nurses at its California call center alleging the company failed to provide overtime pay. A court subsequently refused to certify the suit as a class action.
Scott Klinger is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.