TIAA-CREF shareholders meeting hears call to divest from ‘unethical’ private health insurers

Shareholder’s comments provoke response from company’s president

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Having suffered an earlier rejection by the leadership of TIAA-CREF of a shareholders resolution calling on the huge, nonprofit investment company to divest its funds from private health insurance firms because of the latter’s “unethical behavior,” a spokesperson for the divestment group took the microphone at the organization’s annual meeting Tuesday and urged just such a course of action.

Shareholder Sandra Fox, speaking on behalf of herself and others who have appealed to TIAA-CREF to divest its holdings in WellPoint and other giant health insurers, said such firms are not managed in an “exemplary and ethical manner” – a criterion for inclusion in the company’s portfolio – and therefore should be scrapped.

Going into to the meeting, Fox said: “The practices of these companies are anything but socially responsible. They make money by denying coverage, raising premiums, and increasing co-pays and deductibles, deterring patients from seeking care. Their everyday operations result in high overhead expenses, spiraling health care costs, worsening health, premature loss of life, and bankruptcy of countless Americans.”

Speaking from the floor to her fellow shareholders, she reiterated those points and stressed that the big health insurers have been repeatedly cited and fined by regulatory bodies and the courts for improper, unethical conduct.

Roger Ferguson, president and CEO of TIAA-CREF, who chaired the meeting, acknowledged Fox’s comments and said her group’s efforts had already made an impact. Ferguson said MSCI, its vendor for rating companies, had downgraded the stock of two health insurance companies based on the information her group had provided. He did not name which two companies they were.

Ferguson also said the dialogue on this issue would continue.

TIAA-CREF is one of the nation’s top financial services companies. It manages retirement, life insurance and other funds for people in academic, medical, faith-based and cultural fields. Its annual meeting was held today at its gated office complex in Charlotte.

Fox, a longtime social worker who lives in Pittsburgh, cited the findings of Harvard Medical School research and the congressional testimony of insurance industry whistleblowers to support her charge that private health insurers are not serving the public interest, but in fact are doing serious harm.

She is part of a larger national movement, the Divestment Campaign for Health Care, which is supported by Healthcare-NOW!, the national single-payer health care advocacy organization, and whose website is HealthCareNotWealthcare.us.

On their website, the group says the private companies should be replaced by a single-payer, improved-Medicare-for-all system, which “would provide excellent coverage to all by taking the private health insurance companies out of the equation and putting the needs of patients before profit.”

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