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Good News: It Is Legal To Ask Insurer a Question

November 24th, 2009 (10:37 pm)

current mood: sleepy

Trespassing Charges To Be Dismissed
Against Virginia Organizing Project
Executive Director Joe Szakos

Judge Chooses Not to Convict a Customer
For Asking His Insurance Company a Question

Richmond, VA -- Henrico County General District Court ruled today that trespassing charges against Virginia Organizing Project Executive Director Joe Szakos are to be dismissed after six months with no incident and no visits to Anthem’s property.

Evidence submitted by the defense showed that customers are permitted in the main entrance where Szakos attempted to enter Anthem’s Richmond headquarters in July. Evidence also showed that Szakos was connected by cell phone at the time of arrest, waiting for an Anthem representative. Judge Neil Steverson chose not to convict Szakos for trespassing on his own insurance company’s property.

The trial lasted an hour and included the testimony of four witnesses, including the arresting officer who testified that Szakos was “cooperative and a gentleman” during the arrest. The judge viewed video footage of the arrest despite objections from Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Kristen Knudsen.

Szakos was charged with trespassing on Anthem’s property in Richmond on July 24, 2009 when he and three Virginia Organizing Project board members attempted to meet with Anthem officials to discuss their concerns about a 14.1 percent insurance premium increase. Anthem officials locked the front door to their corporate headquarters when the group approached the building, and called police to have Szakos arrested. The Virginia Organizing Project spends $25,000 per month on health insurance premiums with Anthem.

Joe Szakos, Executive Director of the Virginia Organizing Project, issued the following statement following the trail:

“I am relieved that Judge Steverson recognized that I was well within my rights to visit my own insurance company and ask them a question. I look forward to the official dismissal of these charges in six months so that we can all move on. Until that six months is up, I am barred from visiting Anthem’s property. This is not a problem since they rarely listen to their customers concerns anyway. Being officially barred is perhaps a more formal exemplification of Anthem’s existing customer service policy: ‘Don’t ask questions, just pay your bill.’

“Anthem has succeeded in wasting thousands of taxpayer dollars on this charade. Anthem has used the time and resources of the Henrico County Police to arrest a paying customer who visited their building during normal business hours. Today, an hour of the court’s time was spent providing no real benefit to the County. Instead, the court’s time was spent deliberating on whether or not it is legal for a paying customer to walk up to their own health insurance company and ask to speak to a live person. It is absolutely absurd that this has gone this far.

“Virginians are already paying outrageous health insurance premiums through Anthem. They should not be forced to pay for the court costs involved with Anthem’s crackdown on customers who question their business practices. I think that Anthem should apologize to the people of Henrico County for making them foot the bill for this nonsense. And then Anthem should apologize to the Virginia Organizing Project for taking up our time and resources with this trial.

“The private health insurance industry has given us a health care system where customers have to deal with skyrocketing premiums, denied claims, and even trespassing charges for asking to speak to a representative in person. I am glad that Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb voted Saturday to begin debate on health care legislation that will force insurance companies like Anthem to be competitive and improve their service. We all deserve better than this.”

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