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WellPoint Falls on Subsidiary Accusations

Shares of health benefits company WellPoint fall after the California Insurance Commissioner said that its subsidiary mishandled claims.
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shares fell as much as 1.5% Tuesday after the California Insurance Commissioner said late Monday that subsidiary Anthem Blue Cross could be fined $7 million for claims handling irregularities.

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Following an investigation into consumer complaints, California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner said the insurance department had found more than 700 violations of state's claims handling law.

Wellpoint failed to respond to state requests to hand over certain documents to investigate consumer complaints, according to SNL Financial. Additionally, it misrepresented policy provisions to consumers, SNL Financial said.

Poizner said that if these violations are proven to be willful, Anthem Blue Cross would face a maximum penalty of $10,000 for each violation committed from 2006 through 2009. These fines would not help a company that is already intending to increase rates for its policyholders by up to 39% because it claims it is losing money in California.

WellPoint stock is down 1.1% to $58.80 in recent trading.

--Reported by Gavin Magor in Jupiter, Fla.

Gavin Magor is the senior analyst responsible for assigning financial-strength ratings to insurance companies. He conducts industry analysis and supports consumer products. Magor has more than 22 years of international experience in operations and credit-risk management, commercial lending and analysis. His experience includes international assignments in Sweden, Mexico, Brazil and the U.S. He holds a master's degree in business administration from The Open University in the U.K.