Angela Braly at a Senate hearing in February 2010. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

Angela Braly has left the positions of president, chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of WellPoint Inc. (NYSE:WLP).

The announcement came suddenly, and WellPoint, Indianapolis, says it has set up a search committee to consider both internal and external candidates to succeed Braly.

WellPoint says Jackie Ward, who has been the company’s lead director, is now the non-executive chair of the board.

John Cannon, WellPoint’s general counsel, will be the interim president and CEO, WellPoint says.

Ward says in a statement that the WellPoint board believes time will prove the wisdom of actions the company has taken under Braly’s watch, such as the sale of a pharmacy benefit management unit and the recent proposed acquisitions of Amerigroup Corp., Virginia Beach, Va. (NYSE:AGP).

“But now is the right time for a leadership change,” Ward says. “We believe the remaining executive team is dynamic and strong, with great potential to drive WellPoint’s future success”

Cannon will lead the effort to complete the Amerigroup deal, but he has said he does not want to be considered for the permanent CEO position, Ward says.

WellPoint recently reported a drop in net income on flat revenue.

WellPoint named Braly to succeed Larry Glasscock as president and CEO in 2007 and to take over from Glasscock as chairman in February 2010. Before taking over as head of WellPoint, she served as president of WellPoint’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Missouri unit and then as an executive vice president at the corporate level.