CTNewsJunkie file photo
Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade being nominated by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (CTNewsJunkie file photo)

(Updated 9 a.m.) The head of a good government group is asking the Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board to decide if Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade has an alleged conflict of interest related to the merger of Anthem and Cigna — two of the largest insurance companies in the country.

In her petition to the board, Cheri Quickmire of Common Cause questioned Wade’s ability to conduct a review of the Anthem-Cigna merger in “an unbiased way.” Quickmire said she believes Wade’s close relationship with Cigna, her former employer where her husband still works, and her position as lead regulator of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, “will adversely affect her ability to conduct a review of the merger and take action that is fair or objective.”

Healthcare advocates, both inside and outside of the state, have been complaining for weeks now about Wade’s alleged conflict of interest in overseeing the merger, which had already been announced when she was appointed to the position in April 2015. Wade last worked at Cigna in 2013 as vice president Public Policy, Government Affairs and U.S. Compliance. She was also the head of the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, the lobbying group for Connecticut’s insurance plans, from 2005 to 2013.

“Is it permissible under the Code of Ethics for a registered lobbyist to become a state employee who regulates the industry for which s/he lobbied?” Quickmire asks in her petition to the board.

Barbara Housen, general counsel for the Office of State Ethics, is recommending that the Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board issue a declaratory ruling addressing Quickmire’s concerns. The board will vote Thursday at its meeting to decide whether to move forward with a ruling to determine whether Wade is in compliance with the state’s Code of Ethics.

At the end of last week, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy — who nominated Wade for the position — defended her ability to oversee the merger. He said he believed she met the standard. Wade went to the Office of State Ethics and requested an opinion about whether she had a conflict of interest back in September 2015. The Office of State Ethics determined that she did not.

“Quite frankly, we need a steady hand directing our approach to what is a very complicated issue,” Malloy said Friday in Wade’s defense.

A spokesman from Malloy’s office said that “if the Ethics commission identified a problem, then we would undoubtedly follow their guidance. So far, that has not been the case.”

Chris McClure, Malloy’s spokesman, said Wade sought their guidance and “what’s been made clear from their end is that everything is being handled appropriately. However, as we’ve always said, should Ethics choose to reverse course or change direction from the guidance they have previously given the Commissioner, then we would absolutely follow it.”

The Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board will meet at 1 p.m. Thursday to decide whether to move forward with a ruling to determine if Wade is in compliance with the state Code of Ethics.