By Linda Greene for Counterpunch.org

When it comes to health care reform, single-payer advocate Rob Stone, M.D., says, “We’re still for it, and we’re not done yet.”

The need is undeniable. Over 46 million Americans are uninsured, and a recent study reported in the American Journal of Public Health showed that 45,000 die each year because they lack health insurance. Tens of millions are underinsured, able to afford coverage only with policies with gigantic deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.

Of U.S. health care spending, 31 percent covers administrative costs, or overhead. Medicare, in comparison, spends only 3.1 percent on overhead. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, countries with universal health care spend about 50 percent of what we spend per capita and have superior health outcomes.

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Stone, an emergency physician at Bloomington Hospital, director of Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Plan (HCHP) and board member of Physicians for a National Health Plan (and occasional CounterPunch contributor), is working on a two-pronged campaign for changing the health care status quo.

One is an “inside” approach, offering a resolution for the health insurance company Wellpoint stockholders to vote on. The resolution calls for WellPoint to study the feasibility of returning to its nonprofit status.

Several shareholders, including Stone, have successfully placed the resolution on WellPoint’s proxy statement, released this week and to be voted on at WellPoint’s annual stockholders’ meeting on May 18 in Indianapolis.

The resolution also asserts that “no country has achieved universal health care through for-profit health insurance. … WellPoint was a nonprofit insurance company before it demutualized, raised capital through stock offerings, merged with, acquired, and demutualized other nonprofit Blue Cross/Blue Shield companies [in the early ’90s].”

With its for-profit status, WellPoint has changed its focus from patient care to profits for its stockholders.

Hoosier health care activists are targeting WellPoint because it’s the largest corporation in the health insurance industry and has headquarters in Indianapolis. Further, WellPoint is a leader in the industry in marketing high-deductible policies.

The resolution, which has been presented to the stockholders for a vote by proxy, needs to receive 3 percent of the votes for it to be considered for a second year. If it receives 10 percent of the votes the second year, it can be introduced third year.

The health insurance industry is vulnerable. Lately it’s received negative publicity about policy cost increases. In her recent testimony on those increases before Congress, WellPoint’s CEO, Angela Brawley, whose salary is $9 million per year, left an unfavorable impression of the corporation. WellPoint’s reputation has suffered also as a result of the negative publicity surrounding its efforts to oppose health care reform.

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Two, the “outside” approach, is divestment of stock from the for-profit health insurance industry as a whole. Investors can use divestment, the selling of stock and thus the opposite of investment, to protest particular corporate policies.

“Divestment,” according to Stone, “is an economic and political tool that puts political pressure on corporations to change their policies.”

The idea for divesting from the health insurance industry originated with Kurt Edelman, from the Service Employees International Union, during an activists’ conference call about the industry.

Divestment from the health care industry has, as its model, divestment from South Africa during its racist, apartheid regime. Then, divestment entailed persuading companies to cease doing business in South Africa in protest the regime.

Although health care activists’ goal is complete divestment of stock in the publicly traded health insurance industry, in Stone’s words, the industry is a “parasitic middleman that increases cost and complexity, with no value added.”

The starting point is WellPoint. Last year a WellPoint shareholders’ resolution calling on the company to divulge the pay given to executives almost passed, with 46% of the votes. It could pass this year, according to Stone.

One avenue Stone and his fellow activists are exploring is mutual funds that own stock in WellPoint. TIAA-CREF, in which many teachers and college professors have investments for their pensions, is the 12th largest stockholder in WellPoint and holds 5 million shares of Wellpoint, worth about $320 billion.

Stone figures people in the teaching profession are more likely than some others to be sympathetic to a divestment campaign. The aim is to weaken the health insurance industry, and academics can put pressure on their employers to divest.

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Single-payer advocates and proponents of a public option, as Stone says, are “let down, worn out and disappointed” in the current health care “reform.” But he adds immediately, “The antidote to despair is action.”

Stone said HCHP will release the resolution during a press conference at 11 a.m. on Wed., April 7, in front of WellPoint’s headquarters on Monument Circle in Indianapolis. The public is welcome to attend.

Attending a rally in front of WellPoint headquarters at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, May 18, after WellPoint’s annual stockholders meeting, is even more important, Stone said.

The point of the rally is to draw attention to WellPoint’s current negative public relations and to build a campaign to expose the problems with for-profit health insurance.

At the rally singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer will perform, and the speakers will include Wendell Potter, a former vice president of communications for the health insurance company Cigna. He was in charge of running a campaign to discredit Michael Moore’s film Sicko, but he switched sides in the health care debate after observing hundreds of people without health care wait for care at a free clinic in Appalachia.

1 Comment

  1. Marcia on April 19, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    So now what? The Tea Party lit up Tax day April 15th. Do they get the last word? Have they been struggling for HUNDREDS OF YEARS, trying to get their government to do what they would like? They are just having a small taste of what it’s like. What it’s like to have

    The Supreme Court make you property: Dred Scott V. Sanford
    The Supreme Court deny you education: Plessy V. Fergusson
    The Supreme Court take away your land and rights: Cherokee Nation V. Georgia
    The Supreme Court interferes in your sex life: Bowers V. Hardwick
    The Supreme Court taking Public broadband and giving it to corporations: FCC v. Fox (?)
    The Supreme Court deciding that Corporations can participate in elections: Citizen’s United v. F.E.C.
    The Supreme Court deciding when a woman’s body is her own: Roe V. Wade
    The Supreme Court directly infringing on your privacy rights by supporting the Patriot Act
    With Prop 8 passing, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell not getting repealed. With the Supreme Court denying millions of votes to be counted and over riding States Rights: BUSH V. GORE 2000
    And lastly the furor of states filing petition to take back the latest health care law…

    I think we ought to come out IN VERY LARGE NUMBERS with an EMERGENCY MARCH on International Labor Day and tell the country if we couldn’t get the REcount, you’re not getting the REpeal!!

    and then put the Supreme Court on a term limit like 20 years.

    Help Me spread the word and let’s show Fox and Friends how it’s done!

    AGENDA

    1) Discuss the 2000 vote

    a) Disenfranchising of the African American votes especially in Florida

    b) violation of the law by the Supreme Court decision

    c) Subsequent Court decisions: Prop 8, D.A.D.T., FCC vs (FOX NEWS) Citizens United vs. FEC, failure to sign on to the KYOTO accord.

    2) Discuss the law we really wanted HR676/ Single Payer/ IMPROVED Medicare for All

    a) No Corporations “Because the PEOPLE say so, Insurance Companies gotta GO!”

    b) Workers built the wealth of this world and enjoy none of the wealth. Living Wages/Unions

    c) Support organizations that do not take Corporate support like LINK TV , the GREEN party, Citizens for Legitimate Government and CREDO etc.

    We want: Full Employment, Non- Profit health service, End to All forms of Discrimination, for the RICH to pay their taxes -ending loop holes. For our ECONOMY to be based on the GREEN revolution-Zero pollution- Zero waste. For Campaign contributions to be restricted to individuals ONLY- with a yearly max.

    Wanted: Speakers who want to address the Public on any of these subjects! MAY DAY! MAY DAY!