Nov. 15, 2006 – A coalition of civil- and human-rights advocates is calling on workers across the country to boycott health-insurance policies from Aetna if the company fails to create a trust fund for descendents of enslaved Africans.
Aetna is named in a class-action lawsuit first filed in 2002 against more than a dozen corporations that allegedly profited from slavery, including Bank of America, Lehman Brothers, and RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company. Defendants fought the suit, and the case is now in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, where oral arguments were presented in September.
The call for a boycott of Aetna is timed to coincide with "open season" â€“ a period of several weeks during which federal employees can change their insurance carriers. Blacks in Government (BIG), a group claiming to represent millions of civil-service workers, is calling on government employees to consider changing their insurers if Aetna fails to create a trust fund.
"Aetna benefited financially from insuring the lives of enslaved Africans, with slave owners as the beneficiaries, as if the Africans were farm animals or office equipment," Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, executive director of the Restitution Study Group and lead plaintiff in the suit, said in a statement. "Now the company refuses to pay restitution for that inhumane practice that financed domestic slavery. They left us no choice but to boycott."
In 2000, Aetna issued an apology for its hand in slavery, but in a recent interview with The NewStandard, spokesperson Cynthia Michener would not say whether Aetna would establish a trust fund for slavesâ€™ descendants to settle the lawsuit. She noted that the company has given about $1 million a year over the last 26 years for "education, health, economic development, community partnerships and minority-owned business initiatives."
According to Aetnaâ€™s website, the company brought in some $22.5 billion dollars in revenue during 2005 alone.
Edmund Burns, spokesperson for the US Office of Personnel Management, told TNS all full-time federal employees have the option to participate in the open-season period, which runs from November 13 through December 11 this year. Those employees can choose from a number of providers, including Aetna, BlueCross BlueShield, Government Employees Hospital Association, and American Postal Workers Union Health Plan.
It is more difficult for employees in the private sector to switch health-insurance companies if their employer only offers coverage through one provider. Farmer-Paellmann told The NewStandard that the campaign recommends people with Aetna healthcare packages write letters to their employers requesting the company change providers and send a copy of the letter to Aetna.