Aetna Chief Quits Amid Share Price, Quality Concerns

The man viewed by many physicians as a poster boy for health plan greed — Aetna U.S. Healthcare CEO Richard Huber — was forced into early retirement as shareholder criticism of his leadership mounted.

Aetna’s stock price was near its 52-week low Feb. 25 when Huber resigned under pressure. Aetna faces a number of issues that may have dragged down its stock price, including operational difficulties related to its myriad acquisitions, a widening physician revolt, and a growing list of legal challenges from members.

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, the saga of a once-mighty not-for-profit HMO dragged on with no end in sight. With two of the state’s own deadlines for a rescue plan for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care long forgotten — and with the people shaping that plan suddenly playing their cards very close to the vest — the fate of the Massachusetts HMO has been left to speculation. But hospital executives around Boston have hinted that conversion to for-profit status is a strong possibility.

Those executives told the Boston Globe that they worried that that such a conversion would leave them holding the bag, because no for-profit buyer would be likely to agree to absorb the $210 million that Harvard Pilgrim owes hospitals.

The state is under pressure to put an end to the crisis because Harvard Pilgrim is losing members; the longer the process drags out, the lower the HMO’s membership and, thus, its value. Observers do not think liquidation of Harvard Pilgrim is likely, given its million-member size.

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