A new coalition of groups opposed to the proposed $54 billion merger of Anthem with Bloomfield-based Cigna called Wednesday for state regulators to ensure as much public scrutiny of the deal as possible.
Expressing concern that health care costs for consumers will rise and quality care will suffer, the new Connecticut Campaign for Consumer Choice asked for “an open, transparent hearing process in Connecticut, where the public, policy holders, physicians, and other interested parties are given maximum opportunity to share their views about this merger.”
The merger, which would create the nation’s largest health insurer, has the potential to have a major impact on patients, doctors, hospitals, and the state’s economy.
“There will be serious consequences for costs and patient care,” said Matthew Katz, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Connecticut State Medical Society, which teamed up with the Connecticut Citizen Action Group and the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut to press the issue.
Nearly two-thirds of Connecticut residents who have private health insurance are with either Cigna or Anthem. More than 5,500 people in Connecticut work at one of the two companies.
The state Department of Insurance is reviewing thousands of pages filed in connection to the proposed merger — all of them available on the department’s website — and will hold a public hearing within 30 days once regulators consider the application complete.
Spokeswoman Donna Tommelleo said the insurance department “respects the coalition’s interest” in the issue and promised the public “will be given ample opportunity to provide both written and oral comment.”
Jill Becher, a spokeswoman for Anthem, said that “expanding access to affordable health coverage is the foundation of our combination with Cigna and will remain Anthem’s top priority.”
“Anthem and Cigna have limited overlap in a highly competitive industry, and together will be in a better position to improve consumer choice and quality,” she said. “Additionally, we will be better able to manage the cost drivers that negatively impact affordability for consumers.”
Becher said the companies “are continuing to work with the Department of Justice and appropriate state regulators, and are confident that our proposed merger is being reviewed based on these facts.”
It is not clear when Connecticut will hold its hearing, but the new coalition told reporters it could happen this spring. The companies, which also need a green light from federal regulators and many other states, are eyeing completion of the merger late this year.
Connecticut’s decision is a crucial one since its insurance commissioner, Katharine Wade, is leading the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ working group that is looking into the issues surrounding the proposal.
“All eyes will be on Connecticut,” said Jill Zorn, the senior policy officer for the Universal Health Care Foundation.
The merger plan is a hot issue nationally, drawing opposition from both the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association. Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton said last fall she has “serious concerns” about it and worries “that the balance of power is moving too far away from consumers.”
“Companies proposing to merge bear the heavy burden of demonstrating that consumers will benefit,” Clinton said in a statement her campaign issued in October. She noted that “too often the companies end up pocketing profits rather than passing savings to consumers.”
Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, said it is “very unlikely” the merger would have a positive impact for consumers or the state. He said it is crucial to have alternative voices in the review process.
The new coalition set three goals during a conference call with reporters, beginning with a request for the insurance department to schedule the hearing at a place and time that maximizes public participation rather than some morning in the regulators’ office building.
It also seeks to let outsiders such as Swan’s group participate as intervenors who can call witnesses and ask questions.
In addition, the coalition asked for a study that would “analyze the potential impact on cost, access, and the Connecticut economy, including jobs, as part of the deliberation.”
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal has also questioned the wisdom of allowing the merger, as well as another one eyed between Aetna and Humana.
On the day the Cigna-Anthem proposal was announced last summer, Blumenthal immediately declared in a written statement that the two deals together “will result in a level of market power consolidation that raises serious consumer concerns.”
“The combined effect of these mergers will reduce the number of large, national health insurance providers from five to three, limiting access to affordable health care and raising premiums,” Connecticut’s senior senator said. “These mergers must be seriously scrutinized to ensure that consumers and health care providers are protected from mega-insurer market power abuse.”