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Organizer Arrested During Effort to Hold Health Care Provider Accountable

From Joe Szakos - Director: Virginia Organizing Project

Have you ever had really bad customer service? Then you will love this story...
I asked to speak to a representative of VOP’s health insurance company in person Friday and I got arrested for trespassing! Last Friday, the last thing I expected was to get arrested. But there I was, a little after noon, getting my mug shot taken and being fingerprinted in the Henrico County Jail.

So what was my crime?
It all started last month when Anthem raised our health insurance premiums 14.1 percent — with no additional risks and no new health care services to justify the increase — and we also discovered that Anthem was spending millions of dollars to lobby Congress against health care reform.

We wanted to find out how much of our premiums were being used for lobbying, and ask for that money back. So on Friday, I accompanied three VOP Board members in an attempt to meet with Anthem officials. As we approached the building a little after 11 a.m., they locked the front door and would not let us in.
“We are your customers. Can someone meet with us?” I added. “We want to know why our rates were increased 14.1 percent.”

The two men inside told us to call our customer service representative. They were not going to let us in. They gave us the number and I took out my cell phone and called it. I told the woman who answered that we were an Anthem customer and we wanted to know why they increased our premiums 14.1 percent last month. I waited on hold for five minutes.

As I was waiting on hold with Anthem, at least six police officers arrived. One of them got off his motorcycle and the two Anthem employees let him in the front door. Then they locked the door again. Soon, the police officer came out and said we had to leave. “But they told us to call the customer service representative and I am on hold,” I said. “You have to leave or you will be arrested,” said another police officer.

Within minutes, my hands were handcuffed behind my back, and I was sitting in the front seat of a police cruiser, with the doors locked and the windows closed. Two police officers took a statement from an Anthem official as I waited.
After my mug shot and fingerprinting, a magistrate eventually let me go, as long as I promised to show up on Monday morning for my arraignment.
On Monday, the judge set my trial date for September 22 at 11 a.m. I am charged with trespassing, which is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor and carries a possible jail sentence of 12 months and a fine of up to $2,500.

Not only is Anthem spending our premiums to directly lobby Congress, but they are trying to get their customers to do so as well. VOP recently received an e-mail asking us, as customers, to call our members of Congress to oppose a public health insurance option.

Getting locked out of the Anthem headquarters is an excellent example of the relationship the health insurance industry has with its customers. They don’t feel that they have to explain or account for anything. Anthem has little competition and they know their customers have few choices. Anthem and other health insurance corporations are spending $1.4 million per day lobbying Congress to make sure that Americans don’t have any other choice.

That is why we need a public health insurance option that forces the private health insurance industry to compete. The private health insurance industry has given us a greedy health insurance system where customers have to deal with skyrocketing premiums, denied claims, and even trespassing charges for asking to speak to a representative in person. We all deserve better than this.

The Virginia Organizing Project has been working hard to push for a public option. We have canvassed more than 140,000 doors all across the state, and four of five people tell us they agree that there is a real need for health care reform. We have held more than two dozen community meetings asking people to share their experiences with the current broken health care system. The horror stories keep coming.

So what can we do about it?
Please call your members of Congress with this toll-free number:
Ask them to support a public health insurance option that will provide quality, affordable health care for everyone.

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