Aetna Policy Becomes Issue in Conn. Gubernatorial Campaign

By Susan Haigh | October 30, 2006

Connecticut Democratic gubernatorial candidate John DeStefano has questioned Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s involvement in the state’s approval of a health insurance program that’s become the subject of a lawsuit.

The accusation clearly rankled Rell, who said the criticism “sank to a new low.”

DeStefano said a state worker told his campaign the Department of Insurance approved the “limited benefits coverage” plan by Aetna Inc., only after Rell met with Aetna’s then-CEO John W. Rowe and after her office put pressure on the agency.

Some state insurance officials had raised concerns about the plans, which in some cases provide only $1,000 in coverage. According to Aetna, however, there are no active policies with the $1,000 limit. The most commonly purchased plan is a $10,000-limit policy.

DeStefano said Insurance Commissioner Susan Cogswell should be removed from office for approving the plans, which he called “fraudulent” to consumers.

“And Governor Rell should come clean in her role in the intervention of foisting a fraudulent insurance plan on the working poor of this state,” he said, adding how Rell received $25,000 in campaign contributions from Aetna employees three months after meeting with Rowe.

The Republican governor flatly denied her opponent’s claims. She said the only time she has met with Rowe was on University of Connecticut-related business. Rowe is chairman of UConn’s board of trustees.

“I would never ask my commissioner to intercede on any product or company. We don’t do business that way under this administration,” Rell said after a groundbreaking in Wallingford Thursday. “And for the mayor to suggest or allude to something otherwise … I’m trying to be ladylike, but I will tell you that it sinks to a new low and it is totally inappropriate.”

Rell’s campaign released a list of meetings between the governor and Rowe from 2004-2006 that dealt with UConn matters.

Rell said she had never heard about Aetna’s application or the limited benefits coverage until reading a news story about it last Thursday.

Cogswell, in a written statement, said Rell did not call her about the matter.
Last week’s Quinnipiac University Poll shows Rell leading DeStefano, the New Haven mayor, by 26 percentage points.

Last Wednesday, Citizens for Economic Opportunity, a coalition of labor unions and community and citizen action groups, sued Aetna, one of its subsidiaries that administers the plans and the state insurance department, claiming the plans violate state law. CEO President Phil Wheeler said the policies are designed to mislead workers into believing they have adequate coverage in hopes of encouraging them to stay on the job.

Cynthia Michener, an Aetna spokeswoman, called DeStefano’s claims “a textbook, election-season political play” that was “short on facts.” She said Aetna received no special treatment during its application process.

She said it took nearly a year for Aetna and its South Carolina subsidiary Strategic Resources Co. to receive state approval to sell the limited health insurance policies, sold mostly to companies that employ part-time and seasonal workers.

On average, she said, filings take about 100 days to get approved.

“We know from Governor Rell’s public filings that some Aetna employees personally contributed to her campaign. Presumably, there are Aetna employees who personally donated to DeStefano’s campaign,” Michener said.

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