WellPoint director Bayh conflicted, activists say-WEB ONLY

WellPoint Inc. CEO Angela Braly faced pointed criticism of her company and of WellPoint Director Susan Bayh from a handful of shareholders at the health insurer’s annual meeting this morning.

Two shareholders used a question-and-answer session to charge Bayh with a conflict of interest because her husband, Sen. Evan Bayh, will have a vote on health care reform legislation being drafted in Congress.

And another investor asked the company to give up its for-profit status and return to a mutual insurance company – “for the good of the company and the good of the country.”

“Give up this grand effort to become a behemoth astraddle the insurance market,” said Dr. Robert Stone, an emergency-room physician from Bloomington. “I’m afraid we’re only becoming a dinosaur.”

Stone, even though he owns WellPoint stock, is an outspoken advocate for a single-payer plan, which is a national health insurance program financed by the federal government. So were the other WellPoint shareholders who criticized the company today – they are all part of a steering committee for Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Plan.

Julia Vaughn took aim at the Bayhs, saying, “It is clear that Mrs. and Sen. Bayh recognize that her position on the company [board] presents a conflict of interest. It is improper for Sen. Bayh to participate in the health care reform debate.”

In response, Braly said, “We feel like we’re well-situated to avoid the conflict of interest that might exist from that situation.”

In other business, WellPoint re-elected five of its directors and approved stock and bonus plans for executives and employees.

WellPoint shareholders failed to approve a “say on pay” proposal that would have allowed shareholders to issue a non-binding opinion on executive compensation every year. The proposal was brought by a representative of Denise Nappier, treasurer of the state of Connecticut. A vote total was not available immediately after the meeting.

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