More Important Than Being Green: Being Fair to Breast Cancer Victims

Don Tennant

Health insurance provider WellPoint Inc. is very proud of the fact that it has been commended by an IT publication for using technology to promote green business practices. It's probably not so proud of allegations that it's using technology to avoid having to pay the medical costs of breast cancer patients.


In February 2008, WellPoint issued a press release to let the world know that it had been named by Computerworld as one of the 12 Top Green IT Companies in the country. The press released quoted me in my capacity as editorial director of Computerworld at the time, so I'm on record as having applauded WellPoint for its business practices. I wish I wasn't.


There's some irony in the fact that it was on Earth Day two years later that Reuters would publish an investigative report about WellPoint's use of technology to help it get around having to pay up in cases of expensive, life-threatening diagnoses, including breast cancer. The report cited the cases of two breast cancer victims in particular:

They had no idea that WellPoint was using a computer algorithm that automatically targeted them and every other policyholder recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The software triggered an immediate fraud investigation, as the company searched for some pretext to drop their policies, according to government regulators and investigators. Once the women were singled out, they say, the insurer then canceled their policies based on either erroneous or flimsy information.

WellPoint says it's only taking measures to prevent fraud and abuse as a means to keep costs as low as possible for its policyholders. But federal investigators aren't so sure:

That tens of thousands of Americans lost their health insurance shortly after being diagnosed with life-threatening, expensive medical conditions has been well documented by law enforcement agencies, state regulators and a congressional committee. Insurance companies have used the practice, known as "rescission," for years. And a congressional committee last year said WellPoint was one of the worst offenders. But WellPoint also has specifically targeted women with breast cancer for aggressive investigation with the intent to cancel their policies, federal investigators told Reuters.

Let's hope that WellPoint's well-oiled PR machine, which includes a cadre of lobbyists on Capitol Hill, won't stand in the way of justice being done for these victims of breast cancer. It doesn't matter how small your carbon footprint is if your corporate boot is busy kicking people when they're down.

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