Insurance Commissioner Katharine L. Wade Arielle Levin Becker / file photo
Insurance Commissioner Katharine L. Wade. Arielle Levin Becker / file photo

Katharine Wade, head of the Connecticut Insurance Department, may be fined $1,000 for violating public records laws because her agency declined to release documents relating to her approval of a proposed merger between Aetna and Humana.

In a proposed ruling, a Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission hearing officer has determined the Insurance Department failed to prove the records were exempt from disclosure and has recommended a rare civil fine against Wade “after consideration of the entire record in this case.” In addition to denying access to the documents to the public, the Insurance Department refused to provide some of them to the FOIC for confidential “in-camera” review, a common procedure in contested FOI cases.

The commission will consider whether to adopt the hearing officer’s finding and penalty at its June 28 meeting. The commission’s decision can be appealed to Superior Court.

“The department takes its obligations under FOIA seriously and acts with advice of counsel when FOIA requests are received,” said Insurance Department spokeswoman Donna Tommelleo.”If (the department) believes the Commission’s ruling fails to recognize the Department’s efforts to comply with the FOIA, we will evaluate the Department’s legal options at that time.”

Wade gave state approval for the merger in January of 2015. The merger was opposed by the U.S. Justice Department on the grounds it would reduce competition and hurt consumers, and it was blocked by federal courts after an antitrust trial.

While Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen opposed plans for Anthem and Cigna to merger, and joined a successful DOJ lawsuit to block the deal, he did not join the states that opposed the Aetna-Humana tieup, saying Humana did not have a large enough presence in Connecticut to affect consumers in the state.

Still, a coalition of Connecticut consumer and medical groups want to know why Wade allowed the merger, and they filed a freedom of information act request to obtain them last year.

“ I think it’s very important for us to understand what due diligence the Connecticut Insurance Department engaged in in making the decision that the merger was in the best interest of the public,” said Matthew Katz, CEO of the Connecticut State Medical Society, one of the groups in the coalition that  sought the records.

The other groups involved in the Connecticut Campaign for Consumer Choice are the Connecticut Citizens Action Group and the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut.

The coalition opposed the merger and were angered that Wade made her decision to approve the deal without a hearing or even an announcement.

The decision was disclosed to the Connecticut Mirror months later.

At that time the Insurance Department said it had determined “the proposed acquisition would not substantially lessen competition or create a monopoly in Connecticut as Humana has a small market footprint in this state.”

The Insurance Department also said it had hired an economist to help with its analysis. It said it did not hold a public hearing because none was required since “Connecticut does not have a domestic Humana Insurer” and a “change of control application” was not required.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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