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Read Making a Killing

home / healthcare / in the media

American Health Line
Oct 27, 1999

Aetna: CEO Huber's Aggressive Rhetoric Piques Some

Despite Wall Street's support of his "gloves-off" approach to the class-action lawsuit against Aetna, company CEO Richard Huber is "making matters worse for Aetna and the beleaguered (HMO) industry," according to legal experts and consumer advocates. But the head of the nation's largest health insurer - - facing a suit brought by some of the nation's most seasoned plaintiffs' attorneys -- "has no plans to tone down" his rhetoric concerning the suit, the Hartford Courant reports. He likens the attorneys to a "pack of marauding wolves trying to look for a weak buffalo."

Huber said that many of his critics misread his blunt style. He said, "I'm frank. I tend to be willing to say things sometimes that other people aren't willing to say. I wouldn't call that arrogant. I would call that frank, forthright."

But his adversaries say that his "arrogance" will bring more trouble for the company. William Sweeney, past president of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, said, "In his attempts to appease Wall Street, he is losing the battle of public opinion." Some lawyers and health professionals accuse Huber of treating "health care like any other business" and contend that he "has fueled the fire with his own insensitivity."

They point to a $120.5 million ruling against Aetna in the case of a cancer victim, which Huber called a "travesty of justice." In reference to the case, he said, "You had a skillful ambulance-chasing lawyer, a politically motivated judge, and a weeping widow," a quote which begins consumer advocate Jamie Court's new book, Making a Killing: HMOs and the Threat To Your Health. Court, the advocacy director for the California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, called Huber the "poster boy for the need for reform" adding, "When you act with such reckless disregard for civil society and its jurisdiction, you invite people to challenge you in court."

The AMA is also at odds with Huber, over Aetna's "all-products" policy -- which requires doctors to participate in all Aetna plans. Dr. Thomas Reardon, AMA president, said, "They've sort of drawn a line in the sand and said, 'This is the way it is and we aren't going to change.'"

Huber recognizes that juggling the demands of competing factions is a formidable task. He said, "We're in an impossible situation. This is a very difficult task to reconcile three conflicting forces. ... we can never satisfy all of them." Huber contends that "at the end of the day, I like to think that we've done something important and that in some small way, improves the lot of our fellow man" (Levick, 10/24).


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