Sanctions lifted, WellPoint returns to Medicare biz

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Nine months after being suspended as a contractor for the federal Medicare program, WellPoint Inc. is back in the game.

The Indianapolis-based health insurer announced today that it can once again sell Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D prescription-drug plans to seniors, beginning Oct. 1.

In January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services banned WellPoint from marketing those policies or signing up new customers because computer glitches had caused it to deny coverage for medications to thousands of patients and even cancel coverage for some of them.

But now, Medicare officials have determined that WellPoint has corrected its problems, according to a statement released today by WellPoint.

The temporary ban came at about the best time possible for WellPoint, since Medicare products are almost entirely sold in the fourth quarter of each year. But the suspension could cause it some image problems during this year’s selling season.

WellPoint has about 2.3 million Medicare customers, according to analyst estimates. That’s less than 7 percent of its 34 million total customers, but the company expects to boost those numbers significantly.

WellPoint’s said it views the Medicare products as a growth opportunity, noting that nearly 80 million baby boomers will become eligible for Medicare by 2030.
Shares in WellPoint were up 65 cents, or 1.2 percent, this morning, to $53.49 each.


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