The Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board unanimously agreed to take up a petition Thursday from an advocacy group to look at Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade’s alleged conflicts, if any, as it pertains to the Anthem-Cigna merger.
As the head of the Insurance Department, Wade, a former Cigna vice president whose husband still works for the company, will be overseeing the merger of Anthem and Cigna — two of the largest insurance companies in the country.
Calls for her to step aside from overseeing the merger have been increasing over the past few months and intensified further when advocates learned earlier this month that the Insurance Department gave a thumbs up to the Aetna and Humana merger without a public hearing. Recent attempts to get information about that process have fallen flat.
Wade, according to board chairman Charles F. Chiusano, wanted to attend the meeting Thursday, but was unable to be there because of travel.
Common Cause Executive Director Cheri Quickmire, who requested the ruling, said she was pleased the board was going to take up the petition, but was concerned about the length of time it will take to issue a ruling.
The office will have 60 days to write up the draft ruling and receive comment from interested parties on its website.
Barbara Housen, general counsel for the Office of State Ethics, recommended that the Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board address Quickmire’s concerns through a ruling.
Housen explained that Wade had sought informal guidance from the Office of State Ethics, but there was never any formal request for the board to weigh in.
“This was the first formal request we have received,” Housen said.
Tom Swan, executive director of Connecticut Citizens Action Group, said scrutiny over this insurance merger should be greater than it has been.
“I find it unbelieveable that Governor Malloy would think that it is ok to have a commissioner with this clear minimal appearance of a conflict, rule on the biggest insurance merger in the history of the United States,” Swan said.
Malloy defended Wade’s decision to oversee the merger last week, but recently issued a statement saying he would abide by whatever the Office of State Ethics decides.
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.
Swan contends that Wade still has at least an appearance of a conflict of interest, even if it doesn’t meet the legal definition.
“Whether it fits within the code or not, she is acting in an unethical way,” Swan said. “And Gov. Malloy is green lighting it.”
A spokeswoman for the Insurance Department said “the Commissioner has sought Ethics’ guidance throughout the process. Should that guidance change, she will follow that instead.”
Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey and top Republican lawmakers have called upon Wade to recuse herself from the merger.
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones on Thursday told the U.S. Department of Justice to block the Anthem-Cigna merger.
“When it comes to the Anthem and Cigna merger, bigger is not better for California’s consumers or the health insurance market,” Jones said.
In addition to those calling for Wade to recuse herself on the Anthem-Cigna merger, the Universal Healthcare Foundation of Connecticut has collected 600 signatures in support of their petition calling for Wade to resign.
“Connecticut deserves nothing short of a robust, transparent, and public-friendly review of insurance mergers, particularly since the Anthem-Cigna merger alone will impact 1.5 million state residents,” Frances G. Padilla, president of the foundation, said.
Padilla said Wade’s insistence against recusing herself from the review has left her with no confidence in the process.
“Our governor should put the interests of hardworking families first and ask Commissioner Wade to step aside,” Padilla said. “Then, he should ensure that the review process is overseen by an impartial official who runs a hearing that is transparent and open to real public input, including granting intervener status to appropriate parties.”