WellPoint CEO blasts Obama

The nation’s largest health insurer is in a battle of words with the White House.


WellPoint CEO Angela Braly blasted President Barack Obama for repeating a charge that her company singled out and dumped women with breast cancer from its rolls. In a sharply worded letter to the president sent on Sunday, Braly said the characterization “grossly misrepresents” reality.

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Braly criticized Obama for raising the point in his weekly address on Saturday. She wrote that she was “disappointed to hear you repeat false information.”

She also urged Obama to stop his attacks on health insurers.

“Mr. President, this country has a long history of coming together after tough debates. The implementation of the new healthcare reform law should be no different,” Braly wrote.

“If we are going to make this law work on behalf of all Americans, the attacks on the health insurance industry — an industry that provides valued coverage for more than 200 million Americans — must end.”

WellPoint denies singling out women with breast cancer. In her letter, Braly said WellPoint in 2009 covered about 200,000 women with breast cancer at a cost of almost $2 billion and rescinded only four policies.

The administration cast health insurers as villains at the end of the national debate on healthcare reform, and Democrats have continued to hit at the industry since Obama signed the bill into law in March.

On Saturday, Obama made a reference to an insurer that was “systematically dropping the coverage of women diagnosed with breast cancer.” He did not name WellPoint, but it was clear what he was talking about, given news stories about the insurer.

WellPoint has been taking criticism since a report in April by Reuters that it was using a computer program to target policyholders recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The story quoted “government regulators and investigators” as saying the program then triggered fraud investigations “as the company searched for some pretext to drop their policies.”

Braly’s letter comes as federal regulators prepare to issue guidance on a host of provisions created by the new healthcare overhaul.

Stakeholders, especially insurance companies, have until now suggested they are eager to work collaboratively with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and have committed to making a number of changes even before the new law requires them to.

HHS and the Treasury and Labor departments on Monday issued guidance on a provision requiring insurers to allow children to stay on their parents’ health plans until they turn 26.

The preliminary rule, on which the public is invited to weigh in, would allow both married and unmarried children to qualify, but does not extend to young adults who currently have insurance offered through their job.

A number of insurers — including WellPoint — have vowed to offer dependent coverage this month even though the new law only requires them to do so starting Sept. 23.

Regulators are also seeking public comment on new rules requiring health plans to spend a minimum portion of customers’ premiums on healthcare rather than administrative costs.