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Union Says Anthem's Parent, WellPoint, Is 'Hurting American Families' With Political Contributions


By MATTHEW STURDEVANT, msturdevant@courant.com

The Hartford Courant

6:40 PM EDT, May 16, 2012

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A union that represents state and municipal workers wants its health insurer's parent company, WellPoint Inc., to stop giving money to political organizations that the union says is "hurting American families."

At issue is Indianapolis-based WellPoint's contributions to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce through the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans, which in 2009 lobbied against federal health care reform. The union also criticizes WellPoint for donating money to the American Legislative Exchange Council and what it calls "anti-union governors" in Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana.

WellPoint is the parent company of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Connecticut, the state's largest health insurer by membership.

"We're angry that WellPoint is spending the money that we pay for health insurance on political contributions and lobbying that's hurting our families," said Travis Woodward, a transportation engineer for the Connecticut Department of Transportation. "They should lower our premiums instead."

On Wednesday, the CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 union, which represents some but not all state and municipal workers, sent a letter to Anthem's parent company complaining about money that it gives to lobbying groups. The State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition, known as SEBAC, sent a similar letter, said Ben Phillips, a spokesman for CSEA/SEIU Local 2001.

The Connecticut union said that workers in California, Connecticut, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York and Wisconsin sent letters to WellPoint CEO Angela Braly "telling her it is unacceptable for her company to use premium dollars for extremist political actions that hurt workers."

WellPoint held its annual meeting Wednesday in Indianapolis, where protesters asked for greater disclosure of how the company spends money for political purposes. However, WellPoint shareholders rejected a measure calling for greater disclosure, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

The state of Connecticut is self-insured, which means that the state pays for the medical expenses while an insurance company — Anthem — is a third-party administrator. Most municipalities have the same relationship.

WellPoint said in a prepared statement that it complies with all disclosure requirements under the law and annually publishes an "extensive report that provides detailed information on the company's political contributions and lobbying activities."

"Some of what we report goes above and beyond what others in our industry disclose," said Sarah Yeager, a spokeswoman for WellPoint. "Two years ago, an overwhelming majority of shareholders — 82 percent — voted against a resolution asking WellPoint to provide more disclosure. WellPoint takes positions, and makes political contributions, solely on health care and health insurance-related issues."

The union says that WellPoint has openly supported members of Congress who are "hostile" to workers and want to repeal federal health care reform. Unraveling reform would harm millions of middle-class and working families, the union says.

"WellPoint has the wrong priorities," said Patrice Peterson, president of CSEA/SEIU Local 2001. "The company is supposed to be helping middle-class families, not hurting them. We expect them to be improving benefits, not propping up politicians leading an assault on millions of people. WellPoint should focus on patient care, not politics."

Yeager, the WellPoint spokeswoman, said, "With over 70 years of experience in the health benefits field, we have good ideas to contribute to the discussion of improving the nation's health care delivery system, and we have a responsibility to our customers to remain engaged in those discussions."