Legislators call for Wade to recuse herself from overseeing Anthem/Cigna merger [JI]

June 13, 2016

HARTFORD — Leaders of both parties are calling for Insurance Commissioner Katherine Wade to recuse herself from overseeing the $54 billion merger of Anthem Inc. and Cigna Corp., due to her close connections with Cigna.

House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, Senate Minority Leader Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, and Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, who is a ranking member of the Insurance Committee, are raising questions about Wade’s involvement.

Wade is a former Cigna lobbyist and is married to a lawyer for the company.

Attorney General George Jepsen already has recused himself from the review because his wife works for Cigna.

“At a minimum, the commissioner should recuse herself from further involvement in the Cigna-Anthem merger review,” Sharkey said.
The existence of a potential conflict, and whether it’s legal or ethical for Wade to oversee the merger is not the only factor in his objection, he said.

“Perception of a conflict is also an important part of the equation, and most onlookers, including consumer and health care advocates, following this issue all have the same perception,” Sharkey said.

Kelly and Fasano asked last fall for Wade to separate herself from overseeing the merger to maintain the public’s trust in the commission.
“We felt that her potential conflict of interest, whether real or perceived, jeopardized the public’s faith in our state to act in the best interest of the patients and consumers who would be affected by such a large shift in the insurance industry,” Kelly and Fasano said in a joint statement Friday. “Today, we see that trust has been shattered.”

They added that “the merger process continues to lack transparency, and the conflicts of interest go deeper than we originally thought. If she had recused herself as we asked last year, she would not be facing calls for her resignation now.”

Kelly and Fasano said there remain questions about Wade’s continued relationship with Cigna, such as remaining eligible for benefits, including a blind trust, and that she should share with the public details of the transaction.

“Because she has not been able to do that thus far, she must recuse herself from overseeing this merger,” they said in the statement.

Kelly and Fasano said Wade’s refusal to step back from the merger and the lack of transparency “raises serious questions about the intentions of the administration,” including whether special interests are being considered as a priority over the interests of insurance customers.

“Are they protecting those in power to the detriment of our families and health care accessibility?” they questioned, adding that the potential conflict “makes the scales appear excessively tipped away from the interests of consumers.”

The public objections to Wade’s involvement in the merger come after the Insurance Department revealed last week that as part of the deal, Anthem is seeking an average rate increase of 26.8 percent for individuals.

“If we’re going to continue to be home of the insurance capital of the world we have to be an honest broker that puts both industry concerns and consumer interests in the forefront,” Kelly and Fasano said. “In light of the millions of dollars in campaign donations from Cigna and related lobbyists tied to the governor, there certainly are questions about the appearance of a lack of impartiality.”

A total of 14 health insurance companies have made 18 filings on plans that provide 332,126 Connecticut residents with coverage. The rate increase requests average from 2.1 percent to 32 percent.

Wade has called for public hearings in August regarding the filings.

The public has the opportunity to submit written comments with respect to each filing, and the comment period will remain open through the review process and public hearings, according to the department’s website.