Insurers and Insurance and Health Care & Life Sciences and Health Care & Insurance

WellPoint least popular insurer in poll of hospital execs

August 15, 2012

WellPoint Inc., the health insurer that’s lost 19 percent of its market value over two months, is the least popular carrier among hospital executives who have to negotiate with them, an industry survey shows.

The second-biggest U.S. health plan was ranked last among the six largest for-profit insurers, undercut by low ratings for rejecting claims and fixing wrongly-denied bills. The poll of 403 executives was conducted by ReviveHealth, a communications company that works with hospitals. The showing for Indianapolis- based WellPoint was its worst in the survey’s six years.

Angela Braly, WellPoint’s CEO since 2007, has faced investors’ ire since cutting her 2012 profit forecast last month and posting earnings that missed analysts’ estimates for the second time this year. The insurer, which owns Blue Cross plans in 14 states, has tried to improve earnings by cutting costs, setting up more confrontations with hospitals, said Brandon Edwards, ReviveHealth’s president.

“Hospitals say WellPoint is just exceptionally difficult to deal with,” Edwards said in a telephone interview from ReviveHealth’s Nashville, Tenn., headquarters. “Even though they’re only present in about one-third of the states, they were still rated the absolute worst overall.”

WellPoint was viewed favorably by only 27 percent of the executives polled, ReviveHealth said in a statement. Cigna Corp., of Bloomfield, Conn., had the best reputation, at 71 percent, while Minnetonka, Minn.-based UnitedHealth Group Inc., the only carrier bigger than WellPoint, improved for the second straight year, to 44 percent.

Kristin Binns, a WellPoint spokeswoman; Tyler Mason, a spokesman for UnitedHealth; and Phil Mann of Cigna didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

The survey asked executives to assess insurers on more than a dozen topics, including image and reputation, contract negotiations and claims-processing.

WellPoint’s tough stance may reflect the dominance of its Blue Cross plans in states where it operates, said Jason Gurda, a Leerink Swann & Co. analyst in New York.

“They tend to have a lot of market share, and having a lot of market share means you don’t have to be as generous as everybody else,” Gurda said.

UnitedHealth scored worse than WellPoint in more individual categories, including honesty and candor, timeliness and responsiveness and processing and paying claims, the survey shows. Executives credited the insurer for taking steps to improve, Edwards said.

“Most of our hospitals would tell us, ‘United’s still not great, but we see movement,’” he said.

The survey was sponsored by The Godbey Group, an Irving, Texas-based company that assists hospitals with managed-care negotiations, and Monigle Associates, a Denver-based marketing firm that works with health-care companies.

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