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11 Charged with Trespassing at Health Care Protest in Massachusetts

by Matt Rocheleau
Eleven health care activists were arrested and charged with trespassing at a protest in front of the Massachusetts branch of the health insurance company CIGNA in Newton yesterday.

For the second time in about three weeks, about 60 demonstrators went to the health insurance company's location on Washington Street at noon yesterday asking CIGNA executives to sign a pledge that the company would cease practices that "deny medical coverage to their customers,'' said a press release from the protesters.

Benjamin Day of Mass-Care marches in front of CIGNA's Newton office to protest the company's stand on health reform on Thursday. (Matthew Kaplan/Newton Daily News) In a phone interview shortly after being released from police custody, the 11 who were arrested for trespassing said they peacefully refused to leave when police responded and were not upset or surprised that they were arrested.

"It had gotten to the point where we felt we had no other choice and had to make a statement,'' said protester Russ Davis, executive director of workers' rights advocates Massachusetts Jobs with Justice.

Davis said the protesters in Newton were from the Greater Boston area and ranged in age from 23 to 80. He said the rally was part of a nationwide day of protest against private health insurance companies.

"We wanted to talk with CIGNA, and we weren't going to leave until we did,'' said Joy DePina, 23, of Dorchester, who was arrested yesterday and had attended a previous rally at the health insurance company on Sept. 22.

DePina said police were called to the previous rally when executives were also asked to sign the pledge, but no arrests were made then.

The pledge had three main points, said protesters, asking CIGNA to agree not to stand between a doctor and patient on decisions about medical procedures, not to use any resources to oppose health care reform, and not to deny anyone coverage because of a preexisting condition.

In response to the protest, CIGNA issued a statement, which said, in part, "Although we respect that there are different opinions on the solutions, those opinions must be based on fact. The fact is, CIGNA supports reform that will give all Americans access to quality, affordable health care coverage, and we agree that changes to the system are long overdue.

"We propose solutions that guarantee coverage regardless of preexisting conditions, exclude the calculation of premiums based on health status or gender, and expand access in a cost-effective manner while requiring coverage and preserving individual choice.

"We administer health-related benefits for 46 million individuals as part of our contracts between CIGNA and individuals or their employers,'' the statement said. "It is always a physician who makes treatment decisions. As the administrator, the company has no financial stake in the final decision. . . . In fact, nationally out of all eligible requests for coverage submitted to CIGNA in 2008, more than 99.9 percent of the time our customers received the care recommended by their doctor and the services were covered. ''

Newton police Lieutenant David MacDonald confirmed that 11 people were arrested in the protest.

"It was a very organized protest on their part,'' he said; but further details from police on the incident were not immediately available.

The arrested protesters will be arraigned Oct. 30 at Newton District Court.

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