A whistleblower who contacted New Haven Mayor John DeStefano’s gubernatorial campaign alleged a series of events regarding the state Insurance Department’s approval of a health insurance policy that a consumer fraud lawsuit—served Wednesday by a group not affiliated with the campaign—called “immoral” and “unethical.” At a press conference Thursday, DeStefano said his campaign was able to confirm most of the whistleblowers’ allegations through a Freedom of Information Act request that exposed correspondence between the Insurance Department and Strategic Resources Company, an Aetna subsidiary. DeStefano said the documents show that the Insurance Department employees who examined the policy were concerned about how little coverage the plan provided consumers.
What DeStefano’s campaign has not been able to confirm is a meeting between then-Aetna CEO Jack Rowe and Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Rell campaign spokesman Rich Harris said Thursday evening that the allegation the governor intervened in this matter is “utterly without merit.” He said Rell met with Rowe four times and each time they met it was in his capacity as chairman of the University of Connecticut Board of Trustees.“I have never met with Jack Rowe to discuss anything other than University of Connecticut business,” Rell said in a statement. In order to confirm the Rowe-Rell meeting, DeStefano requested that Rell’s office provide documentation of her schedule over the past two years under the FOIA. While her office had begun to cooperate by providing some of the documents, the DeStefano campaign got sick of waiting Thursday and filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission for the remainder. Rell’s office had produced a portion of the schedule, but the DeStefano campaign said that once it picked up the Insurance Department documents, Rell’s office stopped cooperating. Donations from Aetna employees poured into Rell’s campaign coffers to the tune of $25,000 shortly after the approval of the plan, DeStefano said Thursday afternoon. Harris said that’s because a Rell supporter who happens to work at Aetna had a fundraiser for the governor. DeStefano said he’s not inferring the meeting took place and he’s not inferring the donations were made as a result of its approval. He said he’s using the approval of the limited-benefit plan to illustrate how Rell doesn’t even begin to see the healthcare crisis in the state. Why were Insurance Department employees concerned about the plans?In 2004, when the plan was first submitted to the Insurance Department, Marjorie Breen noted more than 16 problems with it. In 2005, Mary Ellen Breault, director Aetna’s life and health division, wrote in an email that she had concerns with the low annual maximum. “The policy is somewhat misleading in that it states it covers comprehensive medical and hospital services, yet in CT, barely covers 1 day,” Breault wrote. In an email Aug. 9, 2005, to Insurance Commissioner Susan Cogswell, Breault informs her that Tom Strohmenger, a chairman of Aetna’s Political Action Committee, has called and inquired about the approval status of the SRC plan. “The outstanding issue is whether we want to approve the plans that state they cover all mandates, yet have a maximum annual benefit of $1,000, and other inside limits so coverage is minimal,” Breault wrote. Since the plan was approved in Sept. 2005, SRC has sold about 2,000 policies in the state that have an annual maximum between $1,000 and $15,000. According to the lawsuit filed by Citizens for Economic Opportunity, which has been served but as of Thursday had not officially been filed in Hartford Superior Court, the SRC “Apparent Value Plan” is designed for small companies or temp agencies that want to attract and retain employees by making them believe they offer benefits.CEO Director Beverley Brakeman said Thursday that this is a consumer fraud issue because the plans are marketed to employers to keep costs down. When it comes to coverage these plans fall short, she said. “It’s not quality health coverage” and its targeting the working poor, Brakeman said. For example, she said, at the $1,000 level the insurance plan will cover four hours of a heart attack and at the $10,000 level it will cover a day and a half in the hospital if you have a heart attack. By filing the lawsuit, CEO hopes to force the Insurance Department to reassess its approval of these insurance plans. Senate President Donald Williams said Thursday that “this insurance is not true health insurance.” While its possible these plans are legal, it’s a sham product that gives employers and employees the “illusion of health insurance,” he said. DeStefano said, “This governor doesn’t even begin to see the need when there are 400,000 working men and women in the state without health insurance.” “It’s not even on her radar screen,” he added.