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 the group of about 20 out, detaining three of them for 30 minutes. No arrests were made, said one of the organizers of the protest.
"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 where being served for shareholders, the protest resumed outside.
Among those protesting was Alicia Dorsey, of Mount Airy. Dorsey said she is on welfare now, but will soon 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 based their accusations on a November story by Bloomberg News that used sources to connect an $86.2 million donation made to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2009 from America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry lobbying group.
The donation, which was noted in the Chamber's tax returns, was one of the largest to the business advocacy groups, and helped pay for advertisements, polling and efforts to drum up grass roots opposition to Obama's health plan, a Chamber spokesman told Bloomberg. Neither the Chamber nor AHIP would comment on the source of the money.
On Friday, one of Aetna's chief spokesmen, Mohit Ghose, who previously worked for AHIP, declined to comment.
However, the company did issue a statement Friday 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 to attend the meeting from shareholders, 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, another advocacy group.