Posted on May 23, 2008

WellPoint Meeting, 5/21/08


From Dr. Rob Stone in Indianapolis, IN

The WellPoint protest and meeting went very well, and I want to thank everyone who participated. We had over 50 outside the corporate offices and a nice piece in the Indy Star, and check out the great picture.

Five of us who own some stock went into the meeting and were able to address the board, which includes one of former President G H W Bush’s brothers William H T Bush, Sen Don Reigle, and Susan Bayh, amongst others. (The stock is right now trading around $50/share, and so you can buy 5 shares like I own and be able to attend the meeting next year!) We were polite, civil, and relentless. We made our case.

Who recalls the poem “Ozymandias” by Shelly from high school English class? (you can Wikipedia it at The poem tells the story of a traveler finding a broken statue in the desert, a forgotten wreckage. On the pedestal the words appear: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” This was our message to the stockholders of WellPoint. Yes, you may seem high and mighty today, but soon you will be dust and wreckage in the desert. This is how we should be reframing the question when we hear, “But the insurance companies are so powerful. We will never be able to see real change. They will crush us.” The last lines of the poem:

“Nothing beside remains: round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Here is the question I posed to the Board and CEO, Angela Braly:

“I am a stockholder in WellPoint, and I am an emergency room doctor from down the road in Bloomington, therefore an “in-network provider” with a contract with this company, and I carry an Anthem card in my pocket as a policyholder. I bring all three perspectives to this meeting.

WellPoint has had a bad year. From California, first the court ruling about recision, or post hoc cancellation of policies, then the furor over asking doctors to rat on their patients who might have pre-existing conditions. From here in Indianapolis the scandal and dismissal of CFO David Colby. From Washington, the fines for improper and overly aggressive marketing of Medicare Advantage Plans. From Wall Street, the stock down 30% over the last 3 months. From Connecticut, the shareholder resolution that is clearly aimed at the perspective that the officers are grossly overpaid. And in my hometown of Bloomington, another in a series of bitter, protracted contract negotiations just concluded, this time with the largest physician group in the community. Lots of bad press and hard feelings.

Given that setting, imagine my distress to read in the May 19 issue of American Medical News that Angela Braly was being quoted. The article notes, as many others have, that health insurance companies are pricing themselves out of the market. Currently 47 million Americans are priced out of the market.

The article went on: “We will not sacrifice profitability for membership,” WellPoint President and CEO Angela Braly told analysts during a conference call. In trying to persuade investors that WellPoint’s problems are “fixable,” CEO Braly emphasized WellPoint’s market power, which she said gives it the ability to lean hard on its network doctors to accept lower reimbursement.

Last month a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that now 59% of physicians in this country support government legislation to establish national health insurance. That number grows every time a physician reads Ms Braly’s quote in American Medical News.

It appears to me that the business plan that has served WellPoint so well the past 10 years now looks more like a car driving off a cliff, or maybe a dinosaur stumbling toward a tar pit. Please comment.”

Ms Braly thanked me for my question and spoke for several minutes in reply, managing to say nothing.

Rob Stone, MD