Monday, April 5, 2010

Blue Cross greed: unsung hero of health reform

Posted By on Mon, Apr 5, 2010 at 12:19 PM

Today we’d like to pause to give praise to one of the unsung heroes of the health care reform debate: Angela Braly, CEO of Wellpoint. It’s not the kind of honor you'd expect her to win, seeing as how she's one of the country's chief health insurance honchos and everything, but there’s no doubt Braly & Co. provided some late momentum for passage of HCR — just by allowing her corporation to be its normal, greedy, clueless self.

Wellpoint is a massive health insurance conglomerate that, among others, owns the Blue Cross Blue Shield companies we’ve all grown to know and love. In late February, the company announced it would impose double-digit rate increases — as high as 39 percent in some cases — in 11 of the 14 states in which it operates. That shocker came about 10 days after the announcement that the top five health insurance companies' combined profits rose 56 percent over 2008, to $12.2 billion — while the nation remained mired in a deep recession. Wellpoint was also stung when the Los Angeles Times reported that the corporation had only spent 11 percent of the $30 million from its charitable foundation it had pledged to assist the uninsured receive care. Taken together, those news flashes threw a spotlight on just how broken the U.S.’s health care system is, triggered a flood of pro-reform calls and e-mails to Congress, and gave Pres. Obama and supporters fresh ammunition in their fight to rein in the insurance companies.

Even Fox News figured it out. A week after passage of HCR, Fox Business flailed a Wellpoint VP for “helping” to pass reform through the company’s rate hikes. Fox host Stu Varney topped the bitch session by telling Wellpoint’s Brad Fluegel, ““it was a bad public relations move ... [Y]ou are one of the primary reasons why we got a vote in favor of health reform.”

Just in case you thought Wellpoint had possibly — just possibly — learned a lesson, and started giving a rip about public relations or, God forbid, adopting an ethical approach to a major national problem in which they play a big part, the company announced last week that Braly’s compensation had jumped 51 percent in 2009, to $13.1 million, while other company execs received increases of up to 75 percent.

So, yes, for all you did to help health care reform pass, we grateful Americans salute you, Wellpoint CEO Angela Braly.

Our new hero, Angela Braly
  • Our new hero, Angela Braly

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