Hundreds of protesters converged at Anthem Blue Cross’s San Francisco headquarters before noon Tuesday to bring attention to the company’s opposition to health care reform bill H.R. 3200.
Occupying the sidewalk along most of the block on Clay Street at Two Embarcadero Center, protesters chanted demands for a public option while holding signs chastising Anthem Blue Cross and its partners. Several speakers addressed the crowd about their struggles with receiving care through Anthem Blue Cross. After the speeches, the crowd marched around the building while the speakers and leaders of the protest attempted to enter Anthem Blue Cross offices with a list of demands.
WellPoint, Anthem Blue Cross’s parent company, has been called out for sending an email to its customer base directing them to the “WellPoint Health Action Network,” which would help them contact their representatives to voice opposition to H.R. 3200.
According to a document distributed by SEIU organizer Rachele Heunnekens, this email was also sent out to Anthem Blue Cross’s employees. “Employees were also urged to attend town halls as opponents of federal health care reform,” continues the SEIU handout, and these actions are reportedly under investigation by California’s Attorney General. Attorney General Brown is also investigating into the state’s five largest HMOs, including Anthem Blue Cross, and how they “review and pay insurance claims submitted by doctors, hospitals and other medical providers,” according to a press release from Brown’s office. “High denial rates suggest a system that is dysfunctional, and the public is entitled to know whether wrongful business practices are involved,” Brown said.
At the protest, speakers addressed the problems they have faced with rescinded benefits and denied treatments. One woman spoke of her aunt, Francisca Duarte, describing how she lost her health insurance right after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992. Alyssa Eisenberg described how she has to fight Blue Cross several times each year to get her prescription medication approved. Eisenberg is a single mother with multiple sclerosis and she uses her medication to function while she works full-time; her daughter just finished her bachelor’s degree at Yale University.
Speakers also highlighted the difficulties of people who can’t get insurance from Anthem Blue Cross. A former medical malpractice lawyer told of how he lost insurance after retirement because his firm changed insurers. The new insurer would not take the 63 year old because of his age and case of hypertension. The lawyer said Blue Cross also denied his application for individual insurance citing those same reasons, as well as because he received three physical therapy treatments back pain earlier that year.
Dr. Allison Muchay of Oakland’s Highland Hospital spoke at length about the health risks her uninsured patients take on by declining treatment for fear of incurring debt. She described one multiple heart attack survivor who goes to the hospital for pain and continually leaves against Muchay’s advice to avoid putting his wife’s finances in peril.
After the speeches, a group of about fifteen protesters entered Two Embarcadero Center on Clay Street and made their way to the thirteenth floor via the elevator. The door to Anthem Blue Cross’s offices was shut and locked, so those gathered knocked, asked to speak with CEO Angela Braly, and finally read their demands and slid copies under the door.
Two hundred similar protests were planned throughout the country Tuesday by Health Care for America Now (HCAN), a national network of organizers. Sacramento, San Diego, Los Angeles and other California cities were slated to have protests.