LOS ANGELES — The abrupt resignation last month of Anthem Blue Cross California’s president is offering a glimpse of an internal struggle that has roiled California’s largest for-profit health insurer for months.

Leslie Margolin was the public face of Anthem this year when it sought to raise individual rates as much as 39 percent. The move triggered a backlash in Washington and in California’s capital, Sacramento, where lawmakers accused Margolin and her corporate bosses at insurance giant WellPoint Inc. of trying to gouge policyholders.

Now, speaking publicly for the first time since her departure, Margolin says she had worked internally to get Indianapolis-based WellPoint to rescind the the rate increases or scale them back, and to apologize.

“I thought the rates were too high,” she said. “I thought the impact on our membership was too significant.”

Margolin did not object to the rates in her Sacramento testimony this February. But in the months that followed, she repeatedly voiced her objections to WellPoint and in appearances outside the company.

In a March talk at Pepperdine University’s business school, for instance, she said she wasn’t responsible for rate increases she believed were ill-advised.

In private, Margolin said, she pressed WellPoint to abandon its get-tough approach to longtime adversaries — doctors and hospitals — and instead collaborate as part of a strategy to cut costs and improve patient safety and the quality of health care.

Last month, WellPoint replaced her. At the time, Margolin said her departure was a mutual decision. Interviews with company insiders, insurance industry leaders and others familiar with the situation now make clear that she was pushed out.

“Her undoing was that she rocked the boat and wanted to do things a different way,” said one person familiar with the events who declined to be identified for fear of retribution.

Margolin herself spoke cautiously about her resignation, but said: “There is no question I needed to leave.”

WellPoint spokeswoman Kristin Binns would say only that Margolin’s exit had nothing to do with the rates.


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