Blue Cross insurer WellPoint Inc., which had its origins in the Los Angeles area, said Friday it is cutting about 1,500 positions nationwide, becoming the latest health insurer to reduce staff.

WellPoint, which moved its corporate headquarters to Indianapolis after merging with Anthem Inc. in 2004, said it will eliminate about 3.5 percent of its 42,000 staff nationwide. About 600 associate jobs are being eliminated, the company said, and the rest of the savings will come from not filling open positions.

A spokeswoman at Anthem Blue Cross' California headquarters in Thousand Oaks could not be reached Friday morning to comment on how many local jobs might be affected. The company operates Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in 14 states, and its California operation is the state's largest for-profit health insurer.

WellPoint, the nation's largest health insurer by membership, joins insurers such as PacifiCare parent UnitedHealth Inc., Cigna Corp. and Aetna Inc. in cutting its ranks as its customers lay off workers, leaving the insurers with fewer to cover.

"With the current state of the economy we made the difficult decision to adjust the size of our workforce as we continue to meet our members' needs while appropriately controlling operating expenses," Chief Executive Angela F. Braly said in a statement.

Federal officials earlier this week temporarily banned WellPoint from selling Medicare health or drug plans after determining that computer problems caused it to deny thousands of seniors coverage for medications and even canceled benefits.

WellPoint, the nation's fourth-largest provider of Medicare drug plans, said staff involved in its Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D compliance process would not be affected by the layoffs.

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