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Leading Health Insurer Plans to Leave Industry Trade Group

By Rebecca Adams, CQ Roll Call

June 23, 2015 -- The differences between big health insurers and the industry's trade association, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), spilled into the open last week when the nation's largest insurer announced it was quitting AHIP.

UnitedHealth Group said that it will no longer be a member by June 30.

"UnitedHealth Group believes the interest of our company and the customers we serve are no longer best represented by AHIP and accordingly are ending our membership effective June 30," said the company in a statement. "AHIP has set forth a strategy and direction it feels best serves a membership profile and need that does not fit UnitedHealth Group and our diversified portfolio. AHIP has to respond to its needs and interest of many members, which understandably resulted in a more limited and complicated advocacy focus."

United is one of the founding members of the Better Medicare Alliance, a group that was created in December to advocate for higher payments to private Medicare Advantage plans. Former Democratic congresswoman Allyson Y. Schwartz was recently named president and CEO. The other major funders of the alliance are Humana and Aetna Inc.

The move came a month after Karen Ignagni, who had been a top lobbyist for the industry for 22 years, left AHIP to take the helm at EmblemHealth in New York. AHIP Interim CEO Dan Durham is currently leading the trade association.

"AHIP has a strong and demonstrated track record of successful advocacy on behalf of the health insurance industry. Our board has focused us on the critical issues facing health insurers and the customers we serve, including affordability, high cost drugs, and Medicare Advantage," said Durham in a statement.

United spokesman Matt Stearns said that the change in AHIP leadership and United's departure were unrelated.

AHIP spokeswoman Clare Krusing said that no other member companies are leaving AHIP and that no other AHIP staff members are expected to leave the association. Ignagni chose to leave AHIP because she had been interested in the idea of leading a health plan for some time, Krusing said.

"She was presented with an opportunity she couldn't pass up," said Krusing. "She really could have retired but she always wants to take the next big challenge and opportunity." Krusing added that the AHIP team "is a family."

United has sent a letter to AHIP announcing its plans to leave the trade association.

Tensions between the larger, for-profit insurers and some other members of AHIP—such as smaller, regional insurers or some nonprofits—have grown over the years. United has the clout and lobbying muscle to leave the association without fear that its viewpoint will be overlooked in Washington.

In 2012, United led a group of five other large insurers in Wisconsin that abandoned the Wisconsin Association of Health Plans, which worked closely with AHIP but was not an affiliate.

Before AHIP was created in 2003, the insurance industry was represented by two major associations, the Health Insurance Association of America and the American Association of Health Plans, which Ignagni led.

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