New state insurance commissioner OKs Aetna-Humana merger without a hearing, drawing criticism from the left and right

 Critics on the left and right are criticizing the new state insurance commissioner’s approval of the merger of health insurers Aetna Inc. and Louisville-based Humana Inc., “saying it deprived Kentuckians of a chance to voice their concerns,” Boris Ladwig reports for Insider Louisville.

Brian Maynard

Sharon Clark, who was commissioner during the Steve Beshear administration, “told IL in October that she did not
foresee any kind of competition problems in the state as a result of the merger, she was planning to hold a public hearing on the matter this spring,” Ladwig notes. “Her successor, Brian Maynard, told IL Tuesday via email that he does not believe such a
hearing is needed, saying it would have been an “’unnecessary formality.’”

A hearing is needed to let the public verify Maynard’s conclusions, said Jim Waters, president of the Bluegrass Institute, a free-market think tank. He called “amazing” and “circular reasoning” this explanation by a department spokesperson, who said state law “requires the commissioner to
approve a merger, unless the commissioner can prove at a public hearing
that the merger does not meet the standards of (the law). After
conducting the review of the filings, it was concluded that the merger
met the standards of (the law). Therefore, it could not be proven at a
public hearing that the merger did not meet the standards of (the law).”

The decision was also criticized by Richard Beliles, state chair of Common Cause Kentucky, and the Washington, D.C-based Sunlight Foundation, which campaign for open government; and Consumer Watchdog, a California-based nonprofit that says its mission is to “expose rip-offs and injustice” and “confront the industries and politicians responsible.”

Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, told Ladwig that public hearings are needed in states where Humana and Aetna do business “because of the
significant impact the … merger could have on health insurance
affordability and quality. Aetna
has claimed savings from the merger, but in the past premiums have gone
up after health insurance mergers, not down. Aetna-Humana have given no guarantee that it will be different this
time.”

Ladwig notes that Humana has said, “The combined
company will offer a broader choice of products and services, access to
higher quality and more affordable care and a better overall experience
in more locations around the country.”

“The Aetna-Humana merger would have very little impact on Kentucky’s
health insurance industry because Aetna has such a limited presence
here, according to the two researchers who analyzed the merger” for the insurance department, Insider Louisville reports.

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