Wellpoint’s mistress of evasion

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When Wellpoint CEO Angela Braly doesn’t like a question, she’s a regular Houdini of evasion and blame-shifting. Her testimony in front of Congress today managed to turn denial of health care into "efficiency" and put the blame for 39% yearly premium increases onto Blue Cross policyholders who dared to get sick.

Braly.pngBraly described the public outrage over the unaffordable premium increases as "a triumph of soundbites over substance," even after sitting through the testimony of three customers whose economic lives are being ruined by their health insurance premiums. When Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont challenged the profit-above-all demands of Blue Cross, and called it an "insustainable business model," Braly simply claimed that "We are on customers’ side" and blamed the anger on "so much misunderstanding" about rate increases. She called the wave of anger against her company a "triumph of sound bites over substance."

What planet is this CEO living on? Oh, never mind. I know the answer. It’s Planet Public Relations, where you never answer the question you’ve been asked. You just answer the one you wanted to be asked.

Braly also told the House subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that her No. 1 suggestion for reducing health care costs was "malpractice reform." No, that doesn’t mean reducing medical malpractice. It just means barring patients’ right to hold bad doctors and insurance companies accountable in court–even though such lawsuits account for less than 1% of medical costs, far less than insurance company profits. To see what Braly’s idea of malpractice reform would mean, check out the story of Steven Olsen, left blind and severely, permanently brain-damaged by an insurers’ refusal of emergency care when he was 2.

Or, just in case your blood pressure needs raising, check out the damning e-mails and internal Wellpoint documents made public as part of today’s hearings. For instance, one profit-boosting proposal being considered by Wellpoint is to bar treatment fior any preexisting condition for 18 months instead of 6 months. And we find out that "risk management" really means finding new ways not to pay claims–it has nothing to do with making people healthier. And that rather than trying to cut health care costs, the California rate increases were meant to "return California to a profit target of 7% (vs 5% this year)," as one executive e-mailed to another top executive.

And of course, there are those pesky overhead expenses: the 39 company executives with salaries of $1 million or more, and the $27 million cost of 103 executive retreats at fancy hotels, often at resort destinations. Really, aren’t we all glad to pay more for our health insurance to keep those dozens and dozens of key execs plump and happy?


Consumer Watchdog
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