Connecticut officials on Tuesday formally denied open records requests for information about their meetings with Cigna and Anthem, and declared that “any” documents about the health insurers' proposed merger that haven't already been made public will be kept secret. The rejection comes as Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration is facing intensifying criticism over his appointment of a longtime Cigna lobbyist to lead the review of the mega-merger, which will affect up to 53 million Americans throughout the country. Anthem is also now seeking the Malloy administration's approval for a major increase in health premiums.
As the home base of Cigna, Connecticut plays a pivotal role in whether the company gets regulatory approval for the multibillion-dollar merger — one that physicians, hospital officials and consumer groups say will jack up premiums and limit medical care. In the weeks leading up to the merger announcement late last year, Malloy appointed Katharine Wade — a former longtime Cigna lobbyist who has deep family ties to the company — to the lead regulatory position in his administration.
The appointment came as Anthem and Cigna have been significantly boosting their campaign donations to political groups affiliated with Malloy, International Business Times reported last week. Malloy is a top Hillary Clinton surrogate who is slated to co-chair the platform committee at the Democratic National Convention, July 25-28 in Philadelphia.
Wade has refused to recuse herself from the merger review. Documents obtained by IBT show that Wade and her staff have held regular conference calls with Cigna, Anthem and their lobbying firm about the progress of the merger in other states.
IBT subsequently requested all notes, transcripts, minutes or recordings from those meetings to shed light on what transpired. Those requests were rejected on Tuesday — one day after Anthem requested Wade approve an average 26 percent increase in health insurance premiums for individual plans.
“The Department does not have in its custody or possession any responsive documents,” wrote agency counsel Anthony Caporale. He also asserted that under Connecticut's open records laws, “any documents received from Anthem or Cigna and related to the proposed merger are confidential.”
Malloy’s office did not respond to IBT’s questions about why Anthem and Cigna documents are being withheld from the public, and how there could be no notes from regular conference calls or the 24 in-person meetings Wade and her staff conducted with the companies’ representatives in 2015.
“The Department fields many Freedom of Information requests each year, and we respond to each according to a standard process,” said Donna Tommelleo, a spokeswoman for Wade. She said the request for details about the meetings and conference calls between Cigna, Anthem and Wade “was processed under the same procedure we use for all [Freedom of Information] requests and IBT was given all responsive public and non-exempt materials in accordance with state laws.”
The rejection follows a similar move to block the release of merger-related records by the office of Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, whose wife is a former Cigna executive. Wade has in recent months worked with Malloy’s office on legislation empowering her to block the public release of information about the companies that her agency obtains during its review of mergers. That initiative passed the Connecticut legislature in May and is awaiting Malloy’s signature.
Watchdog groups have criticized Malloy’s administration for what they say is a lack of transparency in its review of the Anthem-Cigna merger. The Hartford Courant published a scathing editorial calling for Wade to be removed from the review process.
“Ms. Wade is too close to Cigna to be involved in this review,” the newspaper wrote. “Connecticut needs a clear advocate for consumers, not a former advocate for the company, looking closely at this deal.”
Last week the left-leaning group Democracy For America — which has more than 1 million members — began circulating a petition demanding Malloy force Wade to step down, suggesting that if he did not it would call into question “the appropriateness of the Governor's leadership position in the national Democratic Party and its upcoming convention.”
A top Republican lawmaker in Connecticut told IBT that a lack of transparency had plagued the merger proceedings, and that Wade must recuse herself from the proceedings.
“When you start to go down the road where you have significant connections to a major issue, and there is a company with which you [were] formerly and your spouse is currently employed, now that raises a different specter, now there are some bona fide concerns,” said State Senator Kevin Kelly, who is the senior Republican on the Connecticut General Assembly's insurance committee. “It really does raise the specter as to whose interest is the administration protecting through Commissioner Wade? Are we protecting the corporate interests and basically those of the 1 percent, or are we protecting everyday middle-class Connecticut citizens who are consumers of insurance products?... That's why we've asked for recusal.”