Insurance spokesman decries 'fishing expedition'
Posted August 19, 2009 4:34 p.m. EDT
Updated August 19, 2009 10:30 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON — A spokesman for the health insurance industry accused Democrats of mounting a "fishing expedition" on Wednesday, as individual insurers decided whether to honor a request for financial records sought in a House committee's investigation.
Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for the American Health Insurancance Plans, said Democrats on the panel hoped to "silence the health insurance industry and distract attention away from the fact that the American people are rejecting a government-run plan" as part of President Barack Obama's planned overhaul.
Zirkelbach said it would be up to individual companies to decide whether to turn the records over.
Dozens of insurers received the request, part of an investigation into executive compensation and other business practices inside the industry.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, the state's largest insurer, was among the 52 insurance companies asked to turn over their financial records.
A spokesman for Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said Tuesday night that letters had been sent to health insurers with $2 billion or more in annual premiums.
The request to insurance companies included records relating to compensation of highly paid employees, documents relating to companies' premium income and claims payments, and information on expenses stemming from any event held outside company facilities in the past 2 1/2 years.
The requests were made in letters signed by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who guided a portion of health care legislation through the House Energy and Commerce Committee last month as chairman, and Stupak, who heads a subcommittee on the panel.
They wrote that the committee was "examining executive compensation and other business practices in the health insurance industry." The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter.
Spokesmen for three large insurance companies, Aetna, UnitedHealth Group Inc., and WellPoint Inc., confirmed the firms had received the letters but declined comment.
The letter from Waxman and Stupak requested the information be provided by early September. While companies are not under legal obligation to comply, the committee could respond to a refusal by voting to subpoena the information at a later date.
Among the documents requested were records relating to compensation paid to any company executive earning more than $500,000 in any year from 2003 to 2008.
Waxman and Stupak also sought documents relating to premiums paid by policy holders, claims payments, sales expenses, administrative expenses and profits, broken down by categories such as employer-provided coverage; individual coverage, Medicare and Medicaid.
The requests were issued at a time when Obama's health care proposal is under intense attack from Republicans and other critics, including the health insurance industry. Much of the opposition focuses on proposals for the government to sell insurance in competition with private carriers.
Obama and other supporters of a so-called government option argue it would help control costs and keep insurance companies honest by forcing them to grapple with competition.
Opponents say it gradually would undermine the present insurance structure, which is built around private insurers, and lead to a system controlled by the government.
The issue drew intense focus over the weekend, after Obama speculated aloud about the possibility that legislation might omit the government role in selling insurance.
The White House said there had been no change in position. But liberals expressed dismay, giving rise to increased speculation that Senate Democrats could soon abandon all talk of bipartisanship and draft legislation tailored to their own rank and file. Any such measure would inevitably jettison many of the compromises crafted in weeks of bipartisan Senate talks, and it was unclear whether the talk was a ploy to persuade Senate Republicans to agree to a compromise.