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DISABLED STORM INSURANCE FIRM, DEMAND SUPPORT FOR REFORMS

SHARE DISABLED STORM INSURANCE FIRM, DEMAND SUPPORT FOR REFORMS

More than a dozen disabled Utahns declared war on the health insurance industry Monday morning by storming Western Mutual Insurance Co.

The activists, who vowed in the beginning not to leave until a letter supporting health-care reform was signed, in the end left with a promise from an absent chief executive officer to meet with his board and give them an answer within two days.The activists, members of the Disabled Rights Action Committee, American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today, National Council on Independent Living and Real Health Care for All, were part of a national 17-city protest against the Health Insurance Association of America, which they call "the real killers of real health-care reform."

Western Mutual, an association member, was targeted because it is the only representative the activists found in Utah, said Barbara Toomer, spokeswoman for the protesters.

Protesters arrived about 11 a.m. and demanded that Keith Palmer, assistant executive director of Western Mutual, sign a letter written by the Disabled Rights Action Committee. The letter demanded that Health Insurance Association of America President Bill Gradison announce the association's support for universal coverage; comprehensive benefits; and home-community services, including personal assistance services.

Also, the letter, addressed to Western Mutual Chief Executive Officer Gerald Tedrow, demanded a letter be written to President Clinton and all congressional leadership stating the association's support for "real health reform."

"We're not asking you to do anything that's really weird. I don't know why you won't sign the letter," Toomer said at one point, surrounded by angry activists in wheelchairs and a slew of media.

Palmer spoke on behalf of Tedrow, who was in New Mexico on business.

"We're not very big. We only serve 4,500 participants," Palmer said. He also explained the company belongs to the association for informational purposes and promised to call them later.

"We come prepared. If we can spend the night at the governor's office, we can spend the night here," a protester said, referring to a similar protest earlier this year.

The protesters, however, pressed on, urging him to call or fax the letter to Tedrow so it could be signed.

When Tedrow was contacted, however, he was less than pleased with the events taking place in his office.

"I resent very much you coming in our office and protesting something we don't know very much about. As for signing a letter, there's nothing we can do without board action," Tedrow said during a teleconference with the group.

"You're not asking. You're protesting. And I wouldn't (sign the letter now) even if I agreed with it. You have a militant attitude and it's not the American way. It's not the way we handle things. You have a legitimate request and we would be happy to look at it, but we can't do it without board action," Tedrow said.

Visibly disappointed with the defeat, Toomer then pressed for a day and time for word from the seven-member Western Mutual board. Tedrow, who arrives in Salt Lake City Tuesday, promised to have an answer Wednesday.