Protesters crashed Aetna Inc.'s annual shareholders meeting in Philadelphia on Friday morning, accusing the Connecticut-based health insurer of publicly supporting President Obama's health-care plan while privately funneling money to its opponents - in particular, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Aetna chairman Mark T. Bertolini had just gone to the microphone at Le Meridien Philadelphia, a Center City hotel, when the protesters walked into the meeting, chanting and carrying signs.
Hotel security and police hurried out the group of about 20, detaining three for 30 minutes. No arrests were made, said one of the protest organizers.
"Unfortunately, Aetna's shareholder meeting this morning was disrupted by a group of protesters," the company said in a statement. "We believe this disruption was inappropriate, uncivil, and unsafe. Aetna has been a strong proponent of health-care reform and has been working to shape the future of health care for the past decade."
After the group was removed from the hotel's third-floor lobby, where coffee and tea were being served to shareholders, the protest resumed outside.
Among those protesting was Alicia Dorsey of Mount Airy. Dorsey said she was on welfare now, but would go off it next month as she begins her new marketing business. "Health reform is important for America's small businesses," she said.
The protesters said they based their accusations on a November article by Bloomberg News that used sources to connect an $86.2 million donation made to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2009 by America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry lobbying group.
Most health insurers, including Aetna, are members of AHIP.
The donation, but not the donor, was listed in the Chamber's tax returns. One of the largest donations given to the business-advocacy group, it was used to pay for advertisements, polling, and efforts to drum up grassroots opposition to Obama's health plan, a Chamber spokesman told Bloomberg. Neither the Chamber nor AHIP would comment on the donation, the Bloomberg article said.
On Friday, responding to the protesters' accusations, Aetna issued a statement saying that "we also worked through our testimony to Congress, our meetings on Capitol Hill, and through the efforts of such groups as AHIP and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to educate the American people about the negative implications of a public option in health-care reform."
The agenda for Friday's meeting included the election of directors, a nonbinding vote on executive compensation, and approval of Aetna's proposed employee stock-purchase plan.
Several of the protesters had obtained proxy tickets from shareholders to attend the meeting, but they had not correctly completed all the paperwork that would have allowed them to stay.
Initially, they were allowed to remain in the meeting, but they were ejected after the disruption began, said Marc Stier, director of Health Care for America Now Pennsylvania, the group that organized the protest with Action United, an advocacy group formerly known as ACORN.