They were there again Tuesday, as they are every year --a dozen or so protesters outside UnitedHealth Group's headquarters in Minnetonka.

There was a woman with corkscrew curls and freckles dressed as Little Orphan Annie (representing "Uninsured America"). A community clinic doctor pushing for a national health program. A mom pushing her toddler in a stroller.

The occasion was the annual shareholders meeting of the country's largest health insurer. As dark-suited executives, board members and the public pulled up, a guitar-strumming pharmacist sang "Healthcare for Everyone" to the tune of "God Bless America" by the parking lot.

"The dichotomy is need and greed," said the pharmacist, Joel Albers of Universal Health Care Action Network Minnesota. The solution? "Single payer. Everybody in, nobody out."

One man held aloft a papier mâché mask of former chief executive Dr. William McGuire. Never mind that McGuire's long gone, felled by a stock options scandal.

In a year when the problems of uninsured and under-insured Americans are topping the agenda in Washington, the annual protest -- polite, Minnesotan, but a protest nevertheless -- took on added meaning.

At one point, the protester mom ran after Simon Stevens, in charge of UnitedHealth's reform efforts, yelling: "Are you in Washington? Simon! Simon!"

Inside, it was business as usual. Shareholders elected board members and appointed Deloitte & Touche as the company's accountants. A proposal for an advisory vote on executive compensation was voted down.

UnitedHealth says it has long supported universal coverage (but not single payer).

"We all want to get to the same place," said spokesman Don Nathan, who stopped by to greet protesters. "The question is: How do we get there?"

Chen May Yee • 612-673-7434