Anthem, Aetna, Kaiser Permanente CEOs sound off about Charlottesville violence, Donald Trump's response

People in Lake Calhoun, Minnesota, gather to stand in solidarity with the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, and speak out against white supremacists who recently held a rally there. (Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0)

Like their peers at other corporations, the CEOs of major health insurance companies are speaking out about the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and its aftermath.

A white supremacist rally in the picturesque college town this past weekend turned violent when opposing groups repeatedly clashed—then turned deadly when an individual plowed into a group of people with his car, killing one and injuring 19. Two police officers who were monitoring the event also died in a helicopter crash. 

President Donald Trump has drawn criticism for his response to the events, particularly for comments in which he appeared to lay equal blame at the feet of white supremacists and those protesting them.

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Amid the growing controversy, Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson shared his opinion via Twitter:

He also sent an internal memo to employees on Thursday, which he published on LinkedIn. 

As "heartbreaking" as current events have been, Tyson noted, there is hope in the "overwhelming goodness, decency and justice" shown by Americans.

"In the same way, you can be confident that Kaiser Permanente's values are unwavering," he wrote. "We will not tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind. We will continue to champion diversity, inclusion, and equity to achieve equality for all."

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, meanwhile, had even harsher words for Trump in an internal memo to employees obtained by CNBC.

Bertolini wrote that he is pleased that leaders of both political parties issued strong statements on the national dialogue surrounding the violence in Charlottesville, adding that he, too, is “ashamed of the president’s behavior and comments.”

He went on to say that the company’s strength is its diversity, noting that “we can only remain great if we remain intolerant of hate."

In his own statement issued via Twitter, Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish also condemned intolerance and bigotry—though he stopped short of expressly criticizing Trump.

“The violence and radical ideology at the center of the protests were no less than an assault on human dignity and our societal foundation,” he wrote. “There is no place for these actions or sentiments in our country.”

Noting that he was the child of immigrants who came to the U.S. in the 1950s, Swedish also championed his—and Anthem’s—commitment to diversity. Anthem’s official Twitter account followed up on Swedish’s statement by tweeting out a video in which employees discuss how diversity makes the company stronger.

In addition to Tyson, Bertolini and Swedish, a host of other business leaders have weighed in on the controversy, including Merck CEO Ken Frazier, who said this week that he would leave one of Trump's business councils.

Another healthcare exec—Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove—had said he planned to remain on Trump’s strategic and policy forum, but the president announced Wednesday that he would disband both that forum and the manufacturing panel after several members left them.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to add information about Bernard Tyson's memo to Kaiser Permanente employees.

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