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Financial data from insurers sought

Some firms wary of investigation

By David Espo
Associated Press / August 20, 2009

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WASHINGTON - A spokesman for the health insurance industry accused Democrats yesterday of mounting a “fishing expedition,’’ 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 Insurance 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 Obama’s planned overhaul.

Zirkelbach said individual companies would 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.

A spokesman for Representative Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, said that 52 letters had been sent to health insurers with $2 billion or more in annual premiums. He said letters were not dispatched to other industry groups, some of which have been airing television advertising in support of Obama’s call for legislation.

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 Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat 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.’’ They requested the information by early September. While companies are not under legal obligation to comply, the committee could subpoena the information.

Spokesmen for three large insurance companies - Aetna, UnitedHealth Group Inc., and WellPoint Inc. - confirmed that the firms had received the letters but declined to comment.