Gov. Dannel P. Malloy delivered a public rebuke Wednesday evening to the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate, accusing them of misrepresenting his insurance commissioner’s position on a consumer-protection bill and taking an “unnecessarily antagonistic approach toward Connecticut’s insurance industry.”
In a letter to Sen. Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, the governor faulted them on their approach to both his administration and an important home-state industry, as well as provisions added to a bill that unanimously passed the Senate earlier Wednesday with bipartisan fanfare.
“To be blunt, I am dismayed,” Malloy said. “It is not the intent of the bill that worries me, but rather the process that led to its passage, which I believe is emblematic of a much larger problem that has played out in Connecticut for some time. As state leaders, we must take much greater care in considering the impact our actions have on Connecticut insurers, the people they employ, and the customers they serve.”
Malloy’s office sent the letter to reporters after the passage of a bill, SB 445, that would outlaw “gag clauses” in pharmacy benefit manager contracts that now bar pharmacists from sharing price information with customers. The provisions keep pharmacists from telling customers when they could save money by paying cash for a generic instead of a $20 co-pay.
The bill also would require insurers to give better notice to consumers regarding the cost of using out-of-network labs. Malloy said the provision “contains problematic language…that undercuts consumers and is unnecessarily burdensome for employers.”
Fasano said the language is vital.
“It protects consumers from outrageous bills from out-of-network and, sometimes, out-of-state labs, where they don’t tell consumers it’s out of their network and then bill the consumer directly and insurance won’t cover it,” Fasano said.
Fasano said he stood by the contents of the bill and the critical letter he and Looney sent to Insurance Commissioner Katharine L. Wade. They complained she was seeking revisions that would undermine the bill and suggested she was acting in deference to Cigna, where she was employed for 21 years and her husband is a lawyer.
Allegations of favoritism to Cigna is a sensitive subject for Wade, whose ability to fairly evaluate the health insurer’s proposed merger with Anthem was challenged by consumer activists. She eventually recused herself, and the deal eventually collapsed in the face of antitrust concerns.
“I understand the governor has to protect his commissioner,” Fasano said. “I respect the loyalty that he has for his commissioners. I respect that he has to play the mother hen. I’m good with that.”
Looney, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday night, declined earlier to comment on their letter, saying it speaks for itself. Looney said he had not discussed the letter with the governor or his senior staff.
“To be clear, my administration supported the underlying goal of the original SB 445. In fact, despite the breathless and incredulous claims made in your letter to my Commissioner yesterday, we offered suggestions that would have made the bill more workable for both consumers and employers,” Malloy wrote. “Those very employers also offered compromise language on several bills that were folded into SB 445, seeking to achieve the final bill’s underlying goals in a more practical and less burdensome manner.”
Malloy then took a common Republican complaint about his administration being too hostile to business and turned it on Fasano and Looney.
“Rather than making Connecticut a less-desirable place to call home, let’s focus on our strengths: our incredibly talented workforce, our positive regulatory environment, and our high quality of life,” Malloy wrote. “I invite you to join me in creating an environment where employers can predict the landscape they will be operating in month to month, and year to year. An environment where we foster growth and innovation, not stifle it. Where we don’t worry about major employers pulling up stakes for supposedly greener pastures.”
Fasano said that was too much.
“The one thing he can’t lecture me on is the business climate in Connecticut, not with his record,” Fasano said.