Critics seek ethics inquiry into exchange board

Eight groups have signed a letter asking the Office of State Ethics to look into what they say are possible conflicts of interest among members of the board that oversees the state’s health insurance exchange.

The request, written on the letterhead of Citizens for Economic Opportunity, points to board members Mickey Herbert, Robert Scalletar and Mary Fox, saying that the appointments of the former insurance executives “raise serious concerns regarding possible conflicts of interest and questions regarding violations of the statute and state ethics laws.”

“The reason that we have to do health care reform is because insurance companies made a mess of it,” said Karen Schuessler, director of Citizens for Economic Opportunity. She added that she believes Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who named Fox to the board, is “listening to the insurance industry to make his appointments, not to consumers.”

Carol Carson, executive director of the Office of State Ethics, said she cannot confirm allegations or complaints the office has received.

The appointment of three board members with insurance backgrounds has drawn ire from patient advocates and consumer groups, who say the board needs to be more consumer-focused. They have been trying to get the board composition changed. But others have said it’s important to have board members who understand insurance and that Herbert, Scalettar and Fox do not have current conflicts of interest.

The law that created the exchange–a marketplace for individuals and small businesses to buy health insurance as part of federal health reform–prohibits board members from being affiliated with insurers, insurance producers or brokers, health care providers or health care facilities while serving on the exchange board.

Herbert retired last year as CEO of the insurer ConnectiCare. Scalettar, a physician, has held top medical positions at Aetna Better Health, AmeriChoice by UnitedHealthcare, and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Fox is a former senior vice president for Aetna Product Group.

In a press release, Citizens for Economic Opportunity took issue with Herbert’s position on the board of patient care, which the press release said has insurance companies as clients.

But Herbert said Patient Care, whose board he chairs, does not create a conflict of interest. The Milwaukee-based firm has a call center that helps people who have problems with or questions about their health plans.

“It’s not an insurer. There’s no risk. Patient care gets no money from the insurer,” Herbert said. “Actually, it’s almost the opposite. It makes sure the insurer pays, often.”

Fox and Scalettar did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday, but in the past, those who appointed them have said they do not have conflicts of interest.

The letter was signed by Phil Wheeler of Citizens for Economic Opportunity, Tom Swan of Connecticut Citizen Action Group, Sal Luciano of Council 4 AFSCME, Stephen Karp of the National Association of Social Workers, Kevin Galvin of Small Business for a Healthy Connecticut, Ellen Andrews of the Connecticut Health Policy Project, Michael Verrett of United Action Connecticut, and Lori Pelletier of the Connecticut AFL-CIO.