Dirigo conflict heats up

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AUGUSTA – A consumer advocacy organization is accusing four insurance companies of breaking the law by hiding the amount of money they spent to lobby the Legislature about Dirigo Health.

Consumers for Affordable Health Care sent a letter Monday to the attorney general and the superintendent of insurance asking for an investigation of Anthem, Aetna, Cigna and Harvard-Pilgrim, the four largest health insurance companies in Maine.

As part of the Dirigo Health law, health insurance companies are required to file annual reports with the Maine Bureau of Insurance that detail the amount spent on lobbying activities in the state.

On the companies’ forms for 2004 and 2005, which were provided to the Sun Journal by Consumers for Affordable Health Care, the lobbying line was either left blank or filled in with “$0.”

“For two years running, they have failed to file their lobbying expenses,” said Joe Ditre, Consumers’ executive director. “It’s a serious violation of the law that could mean multiple $1,000 fines and a Class D crime.”

Mark Ishkanian, Anthem’s spokesperson, didn’t have an explanation for why the data was left off the reports, but said the 2005 form was preliminary.

“We’re not trying to hide these numbers,” Ishkanian said. “We file regular and extensive reports with the ethics commission. We’re not trying to hide our expenses. … I don’t have a complete answer today.”

Lobbyists are required to file regular disclosures with the state’s ethics commission, but the amounts spent by particular companies are not aggregated, according to Ditre, who described the disclosures to the Bureau of Insurance as one-stop-shopping for people who want to know what the insurance industry is spending to lobby.

The Bureau of Insurance and the Attorney General’s Office share jurisdiction to enforce the filing requirements, Ditre said, which is why both received the letter.

Chuck Dow, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, confirmed that the letter had been received and was being looked at, but couldn’t comment further.

The Bureau of Insurance also confirmed receiving the letter.

“We’ll take it under advisement and determine whether or not anything needs to be done,” said Alessandro Iuppa, the superintendent of insurance. “It really would not be appropriate for me to say any more than that.”

Iuppa said that if an investigation was to begin, he wouldn’t be able to talk about or even confirm that it was happening.

Calls to the person listed as filing the reports for Cigna, Harvard-Pilgrim and Aetna were not returned Monday afternoon.

“To me, this is a large industry not complying with the law, acting like they’re above the law,” Ditre said. “That’s like a taxpayer reporting $0 on a tax form when the filer knows that to be false. No on is above the law.”

Ditre says insurance companies have more than a dozen lobbyists working the State House trying to derail two pieces of legislation concerning DirigoChoice, a public-private partnership between Anthem and the state that is attempting to expand health insurance coverage in Maine.

Ishkanian said that had he been asked about the allegations, he could have investigated why the lobbying information was left off the report. Instead, he received a copy of the letter from a radio news reporter late in the day Monday.

“The fact is (Ditre) was willing to shoot first and ask questions later,” Ishkanian said. “He’s using the opportunity to try to paint us with a black hat. I think the record will ultimately point the other way.”

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