After attempts by the Office of State Ethics to get information about unvested stock options held by Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade’s husband fell flat, the commissioner announced Thursday that she would recuse herself from review of the Anthem-Cigna merger.
Wade, a former Cigna executive whose husband still works for the Bloomfield-based insurer, said her role has continued to be “mischaracterized” and the steps she’s taken to avoid any conflict have been “highly politicized.”
“This controversy created unwarranted and unfair distractions for the department, despite no conflict of interest,” Wade said in a statement Thursday. “It is for these reasons, should the federal lawsuit be resolved and the merger proceedings resume including the Department review, I will recuse myself from the Anthem Form A application.”
The statement was given Thursday to the Citizens Ethics Advisory Board, which assigned two of its board members to ascertain exactly what Wade meant when she said she would recuse herself from the review of the Anthem-Cigna merger.
Two members of the ethics board expect to review Wade’s statement regarding the recusal before the Sept. 30 because as of Oct. 1 the board will no longer have a quorum and will not be able to meet and vote on items.
Earlier this week, an attorney with the Office of State Ethics was still trying to get the information from Wade and her attorney Kimberly Knox.
“I twice asked Commissioner Wade to provide me with the number of shares her spouse stands to gain each year per the vesting schedule,” Housen wrote in a Sept. 6 letter to Wade’s attorney. “This information is still needed and I am requesting it again.”
Housen said she will be forced on Thursday to recommend that the board extend the period of time to issue a draft ruling as a result of the delay in obtaining information and will assign two board members to conduct a hearing in this matter to ascertain the facts needed to complete the draft ruling.
In correspondence with Housen, Knox said Wade has been as responsive as she can be.
“It bears repeating that the Commissioner’s husband owns no stock or options,” Knox wrote in an Aug. 26 letter to Housen. Wade’s husband, Michael, has “no absolute right to the unvested stock and options,” Knox added.
Ethics laws are based on the financial gain or loss of an official and Knox said it’s impossible to speculate what options Michael Wade will own in the future.
“It is speculative to assume that he will own stock or options in the future as such compensation is tied to his continued employment,” Knox wrote in an Aug. 22 letter. “Until such time as the unvested stock and options vest, there is no legal basis upon which to determine any conflict of interest.”
The petition to determine whether Wade had a conflict of interest in overseeing the merger was filed earlier this summer by Common Cause.
“Common Cause asked months ago that Commissioner Wade recuse herself from any consideration of the merger, so of course we’re pleased she has finally done so,” Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause, said.
However, Quickmire added that “her action today does not resolve all questions about Ms. Wade’s potential conflict of interests in the Cigna-Anthem deal. She should immediately provide the records requested by the Citizens Ethics Advisory Board so that it can make a proper determination.”
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he’s glad Wade has decided to recuse herself, but it’s probably a decision she should have made awhile ago.
“The question is has she tainted herself to the point where a recusal still raises some eyebrows?” Fasano said. “But given where we are, I think that’s the best case for now.”