The Sacramento Bee is reporting that WellPoint, the nation’s largest insurer, is calling its members “to gauge the public’s appetite for overhauling health care – and to enlist, critics say, a grass-roots army to voice concerns about the sweeping proposals developing on Capitol Hill.” “Of the 3 million phone calls WellPoint made last week, the company connected with 140,000 people – 66,000 of whom expressed interest in receiving information and willingness to take part in WellPoint-sponsored town hall meetings,” the paper reports.
So what will these “WellPoint-sponsored town hall meetings” look like?
WellPoint, which operates as Anthem Blue Cross in California and is sixth on the American Association of Justice’s list of ‘top ten worst insurance companies in America,’ has a lot to gain from convincing its members to lobby against certain provisions of comprehensive health care reform.
The company is heavily invested in the individual health insurance market and “has been among the most aggressive in pursuing healthy customers who are less likely to use benefits to pay for medical care.”
In fact, WellPoint’s business model is antithetical to regulation. The insurer strongly opposed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (R-CA) health reform proposal — “because of the guaranteed issue requirement and minimum benefit standards — and the Los Angeles Times’ Lisa Girion has even published a series of articles on the company’s egregious rescission practices.
As it turns out, WellPoint has “long history of putting its bottom line ahead of the welfare of its policyholders and their health care providers”:
- WellPoint Inc. has been barred from adding customers to Medicare plans after it denied prescription drugs to the elderly, endangering their lives.
- In 2006, WellPoint’s profits increased 34% as premiums and fees surged.
- WellPoint Inc., the nation’s largest health insurer that covers about 1 in 10 people in the U.S., fared the worst among its peers in a survey gauging how quickly HMOs process and pay claims to doctors.
- In March 2007, the state’s Department of Managed Health Care fined Blue Cross of California and its parent company, WellPoint, $1 million after an investigation revealed that the insurer routinely canceled individual health policies of pregnant women and chronically ill patients.
- California regulators uncovered more than 1,200 violations of the law by the company in regard to unfair rescission and claims processing practices.
- In December 2007, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner announced his office was imposing a $12.6 million fine against Blue Shield, saying the company had “committed serious violations that completely undermine the public trust in our healthcare delivery system.
Insurance reform advocates even produced this fun video about the company’s business practices:
Obama’s proposal to require insurers to guarantee coverage to everyone, charge a modified community rating, and automatically renew coverage would certainly eat-away at WellPoint’s profits and outlaw some of the company’s time-tested strategies for enhancing the bottom line. WellPoint town hall goers beware.