Enough Is Enough
Insurance executives show a shocking disregard for the consequences of their actions.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Why was I shocked when I saw two women sitting in front of Congress the other day: Angela F. Braly, the chief executive of WellPoint and Cynthia Miller, the company’s chief actuary?
Each had pixie haircuts and innocent, even smarmy looks on their faces with Ms. Braly and Ms. Miller scripted in huge bold black letters on name cards in from of them – deference, if you will, to the feminist movement.
Braly’s WellPoint, which owns Anthem Blue Cross, California’s largest health insurer (and also mine for 25 years) is hiking premium rates on 800,000 individually insured members up to 39 percent. (My rate is set to rise 39 percent May 1 after a 10 percent hike last November.) Anthem had hoped to have these rate hikes in place by March 1 but consumer and legislative anger and push-back have delayed their hoped-for profits.
Each of the women defended their well-scripted corporate play card: Such strident hikes were necessary to counter rising medical costs and an exodus of younger and healthier policy holders. (Wonder why, ladies? No one can afford them?) Besides, California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner had not objected.
Well, there you go; a defense of making extra billions in profits on the lives of the trapped insured if I’ve ever heard one.
The very same week Anthem informed their insured via letter of the massive rate hikes, CEO Braly’s company posted a $2.7 billion fourth quarter profit. The Los Angeles Times quoted the WellPoint executives as claiming their profits “were modest.”
The traditional cabal of corporate heads, generally white, middle-aged and not-too-good-looking men, are suited up and called before Congress to get bashed: Tobacco giants, automakers, bankers, all looking as if they know they just got caught with their hands in the billion dollar candy jar and if they sit there a while and get shouted at, they can go back to their unregulated, well-lobbied operations.
But women have these positions because other women were beaten and starved in jail to gain the right to vote; women who took decades to shout, legislate and educate the public that they should have equal rights.
The same year Hillary Clinton almost made it to the White House, WellPoint CEO and former Anthem legal counsel Angela Braly was making $1.1 million a year in salary along with $8.5 million in valued stock compensation.
She was apparently unconcerned that millions of Californians cannot afford her company’s health care premiums. Even those who can, still pay for most of their health care needs themselves because their company’s deductibles are astronomical.
So what is WellPoint’s greedful logic?
The L.A. Times also reported that documents obtained by congressional investigators showed this same year that the company Braly heads paid 39 company executives $1 million or more and spent more than $27 million for 103 executive retreats in 2007 and 2008 – some even attended by insurance agents and brokers.
Of course, this is all the more horrific since Braly heads a company that brokers in human lives.
My cousin, 62, died eight weeks ago because another health insurance giant delayed telling him that he needed a heart transplant for years. The week he died was the same week they informed him of this fact. I sat and heard my aunt, his 90-year-old mother, cry and repeat over and over, “That insurance company killed my boy for money.”
After all the obscene profiteering, I guess it comes down to this: You’re a mother, Ms. Braly. So I ask you, how much is enough?