House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey became the first Democratic leader Friday to call on Insurance Commissioner Katharine L. Wade to recuse herself from ruling on Anthem’s merger with Bloomfield-based Cigna, the commissioner’s last private-sector employer before joining the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Malloy, who spoke to reporters before Sharkey’s statement, said he saw no actual or apparent conflict in Wade’s continuing to play a pivotal role in reviewing the merger of the two major health insurers. He said there was no reason for the public to question Wade’s independence.
“It is an independent decision. She was asked to accept this position. Opinions were garnered with respect to standards,” Malloy said, referring to an opinion from the Office of State Ethics. “Those standards have been met. If they weren’t met, then she should withdraw, but she has met those standards, and quite frankly we need a steady hand directing our approach to what is a very complicated issue.”
Less than an hour later, Sharkey issued a statement saying that at the very least Wade’s connections with Cigna, including her husband’s continued employment there, was problematic, even if the state ethics office has found no conflict with the state ethics code.
“At a minimum, the commissioner should recuse herself from further involvement in the Cigna-Anthem merger review,” Sharkey said. “Whether a potential conflict crosses a legal ethical line should not be the only factor here. Perception of a conflict is also an important part of the equation, and most onlookers, including consumer and healthcare advocates, following this issue all have the same perception.”
Wade is the leading state regulator on the Anthem-Cigna merger, a $48 billion deal that was announced last year within weeks of the one between Aetna and Humana, which is worth about $37 billion. The two mergers would shrink the U.S. healthcare insurance market from five major insurers to three.
The Universal Health Care Foundation is circulating an online petition calling for Wade to leave the insurance department.
“We have launched a petition calling on Gov. Malloy to ask Commissioner Wade to resign immediately,” the foundation said. “Once Commissioner Wade steps down, Connecticut should start fresh with a new review of the Anthem-Cigna merger that is free of conflict, transparent and open to real public input.”
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, and Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, reiterated Friday a call they first made last fall for Wade to step aside.
“If Connecticut hopes to restore even a shred of public trust, Commissioner Wade should do as we requested a year ago,” they said in a statement. “She must be completely transparent regarding her relationship with Cigna; she should disclose the Cigna benefits she still remains eligible for, including her blind trust; and she should share as much detail about the transaction as possible with the public. Because she has not been able to do that thus far, she must recuse herself from overseeing this merger.”