Activists plan to protest WellPoint political giving at meeting

A mix of union groups, activist investors and single-payer advocates plan to harangue WellPoint Inc.’s directors Wednesday during and after the company’s annual shareholders meeting.

The groups claim that the Indianapolis-based health insurer has used its corporate funds secretly to finance public policy positions they don’t like, such as the 2011 rollback of collective bargaining rights for public employees in Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, as well as advertisements opposing the health care reform law as it was being debated in 2009.

Activists are calling for increased disclosure from WellPoint, and some investment funds have promised to vote against WellPoint board members who they say have failed to exercise proper oversight of WellPoint’s political spending.

“Health care dollars should be spent on patients, not political campaigns,” said Dr. Rob Stone, a Bloomington emergency physician who will present the shareholder resolution for greater disclosure during the annual meeting.

Stone, an advocate of having the U.S. government insure all Americans, has presented a variety of resolutions at WellPoint annual meetings for the past five years. Dr. Quentin Young, the national coordinator for Physicians for National Health Care, will help Stone present the resolution.

As Stone and Young speak, a variety of protestors will be outside the Hilton hotel in downtown Indianapolis, chanting criticisms of WellPoint. The protest is being organized by union-related groups Health Care for America Now, The 99% Power Campaign, Central Indiana Jobs with Justice and the Indiana AFL-CIO.

The shareholder proposal, advanced initially by California-based Harrington Investments Inc., is unlikely to pass. A similar proposal put forth at WellPoint’s annual shareholders meeting two years ago was voted down by 82 percent of the company’s shareholders.

And the proposal does not have the backing of key corporate governance groups, such as ISS and Glass Lewis.

WellPoint spokesman Tony Felts noted that the company already publishes an annual report titled “Political Contributions and Related Activity Report.”

“Some of this reporting … goes above and beyond what others in our industry disclose,” Felts said. “We take positions, and make political contributions, solely on health care and health insurance-related issues. 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. Furthermore, we have a responsibility to our customers to remain engaged in health care policy discussions.”

However, Stone noted, WellPoint’s report does not include details on its contributions in 2009 to a television advertising campaign launched by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce against the health care reform bill. That campaign was funded in part by an $86 million contribution from America’s Health Insurance Plans, of which WellPoint is a member.

The secret campaign was revealed in a 2009 report from Bloomberg News.

“WellPoint has been kind of coy about answering questions about it, so we’re going to ask more questions at the meeting,” Stone said. He added, “If WellPoint is going to have a part in the long run, I think they need to be open and honest and cooperative, and work in a more straightforward way with the government regulations.”

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