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Group Promotes Boycott Over 1850s Slave Policies

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The Restitution Study Group is asking government and private company employees to change health plans to help one of its leaders win a lawsuit against a health insurer.

The RSG, Hoboken, N.J., has put out a call for workers with a choice of plans to avoid plans run by Aetna Inc., Hartford.

Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, the executive director of the RSG, is also the lead plaintiff in Farmer-Paellmann, et al v. Brown & Williamson, et al., a class-action lawsuit that calls on Aetna and other companies that may have benefited directly or indirectly from slavery in the 1800s to pay restitution to a trust fund that would benefit the descendants of the slaves.

A judge in the U.S. District Court in Chicago dismissed the case, and now Farmer-Paellmann has filed an appeal with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

Open season runs from today to Dec. 11 at many institutions, and the RSG is hoping a boycott will persuade Aetna to settle the suit by starting a trust fund that will benefit the descendants of the slaves, according to Farmer-Paellmann and her colleagues.

“This boycott is divisive activity,” says Aetna representative Cynthia Michener.

Aetna itself has acknowledged that it wrote life insurance policies on slaves, for the owners, in the 1800s, and it included samples of those policies in a history of Aetna published in 1956, Michener says.

“Six years ago, we forthrightly and publicly acknowledged it again, when Ms. Farmer-Paellmann inquired, and apologized for our role in an awful period in this country’s history,” Michener says.

Aetna has demonstrated its commitment to ending racial disparities in health care by implementing many programs to improve the health of African-American and Hispanic members, Michener says.

One program to reduce disparities has helped double the mammography screening rate for African-American and Hispanic members, Michener says.

Aetna also has contributed to minority investment programs and community initiatives, and it will be spending $50 million this year on investments in businesses owned by women and by members of minority groups, Michener says.


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