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WellPoint expands share buyback plan by $5 billion

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WellPoint Inc. said its board voted to boost the insurer’s share repurchase plan by $5 billion.

Indianapolis-based WellPoint, the largest U.S. health insurer by enrollment, said in a regulatory filing late Friday that it will use the authorization over several years as market and industry conditions dictate. The new amount represents 21 percent of the company’s market capitalization.

The company bought 20.8 million shares in the first six months of this year for about $1.5 billion of a $1.6 billion repurchase program announced in February. As of June 30, the remaining authorization totaled $667.2 million, said Kristin Binns, a WellPoint spokeswoman.

Investors criticized the insurer in 2010 for using its money to buy back stock instead of paying dividends. Along with the share repurchase plan announced in February, WellPoint said it would pay its first dividend of 25 cents a quarter. The quarterly dividend began in March.

In trading Friday, WellPoint shares declined 9 cents to $65.28.

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