The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Insurer WellPoint plans name change to Anthem, the brand linked to many of its health plans

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INDIANAPOLIS - WellPoint, one of the biggest players on the health care overhaul's new insurance exchanges, wants to switch its corporate name back to the Anthem brand its customers know by the end of this year.

The nation's second-largest health insurer said the name it used before combining in 2004 with WellPoint Health Networks is the best brand to go by in a market that's becoming more consumer-focused.

WellPoint sells coverage using its Anthem name in several states, including California, Kentucky and its home state of Indiana. The company doesn't sell plans under the WellPoint name.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield insurer has jumped aggressively into a new marketplace created by the health care overhaul in which brand recognition is important. The federal law debuted public insurance exchanges last fall on which insurers complete side-by-side to sell coverage to individuals, many of whom have income-based tax credits to help them buy a plan.

WellPoint added 769,000 customers through those exchanges. That represents a small slice of its total enrolment, which tops 37 million. But the insurer also depends more than its competitors on selling coverage in the individual market and to small companies that provide coverage for their employees, two more areas where brand recognition also is important.

"We believe it is important to call ourselves by the name that people know best — Anthem," CEO Joseph Swedish said in statement released Tuesday afternoon by the company.

The insurer plans to pick a new ticker symbol for its stock, which currently trades under "WLP," and it will need a new Web address to replace www.wellpoint.com .

A WellPoint spokeswoman declined to detail the company's cost for the name change.

WellPoint will hold a shareholder vote on the change to Anthem Inc. in November.

The company's shares closed at $108.66 on Tuesday and have climbed more than 17 per cent so far this year, hitting several all-time highs. That advance tops the 4.6 per cent gain from the Standard and Poor's 500 index.

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AP Health Writer Matthew Perrone contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.

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