DIVESTMENT CAMPAIGN FOR HEALTH CARE investigates holdings by TIAA-CREF and urges divestment from health insurance companies

By Sandra Fox

Healthcare-NOW, the national grassroots organization for single-payer healthcare, together with Physicians for a National Health Program, began a committee in 2010 to look at divestment from for-profit health insurance companies. We called ourselves the Divestment Campaign for Health Care.

As a member of the committee and a participant in TIAA-CREF funds, the nation’s largest pension fund that offers retirement options to academic (including medical centers) and religious organizations, I decided to investigate their holdings in the “socially responsible” stock option called “CREF-Social Choice.” As a stakeholder, I wanted to make sure that health insurance companies were not included in this fund.

Upon reviewing the 2010 Audited Schedules of Investments for the fund, I was very disturbed to discover that CREF-Social Choice included holdings in Aetna, CIGNA, Coventry Health Care, Humana, and WellPoint.

According to their Summary Prospectus the five “social criteria” TIAA-CREF reports using to decide on their socially responsible holdings include:

1) Strong stewards of the environment;
2) devoted to serving local communities where they operate and to human rights and philanthropy;
3) committed to higher labor standards for their own employees and those in the supply chain;
4) dedicated to producing high-quality and safe products; and
5) managed in an exemplary and ethical manner.

I understood from reading the Prospectus that companies are screened and ranked by an outside vendor, namely MSCI Inc, and that TIAA-CREF invests in companies that “meet or exceed the screening criteria…,” though “…concerns in one area do not automatically eliminate a company from potential inclusion in the …Fund.”

I further understood from the Prospectus, that “Even if an investment is not excluded by MSCI’s criteria, Advisors has the option of excluding the investment if it decides the investment is inappropriate, though it is expected that Advisors will normally apply MSCI’s screening results.”

Thus began my inquiry directly with TIAA-CREF headquarters in NYC.
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