Two Big Health Groups Agree To Merge
By

Washington

With health insurance once again becoming a major national issue, the nations two largest health insurance company trade associations hope that a merger will allow them to speak with a more powerful voice in the health care policy debate.

The boards of the American Association of Health Plans and Health Insurance Association of America agreed to merge pending a final vote by their memberships.

Karen Ignagni, current president of AAHP, will become president of the new association, which will be called AAHP/HIAA until a new name is chosen.

This is the second time the groups have considered merging, but the previous attempt three years ago did not succeed.

Susan Pisano, AAHP vice president of communications, notes there was an incredible amount of interest in a merger three years ago and that interest did not go away.

Pisano adds that there was a strong rationale in favor of a merger three years ago. Companies had diversified their product lines, she says, thus blurring the historical differences between the two associations.

Thus, she says, a merger which made sense three years ago makes even more sense now.

Rob Gilbert, vice president of corporate communications with Fortis and chairman of HIAAs public relations committee, says the timing just seemed right this time.

Gilbert says the associations have relatively little crossover membership. He believes, he says, that only about four companies are members of both associations.

However, he says, a large proportion of both groups are involved in financing and managing health care.

Gilbert notes that health care is once again at the forefront of the national political agenda and that both organizations had a similar mission. The timing, he says, seemed ideal.

Gilbert adds that financial issues did not force the merger. Both associations, he says, are strong financially. The merger, he adds, will enhance that.

Rather, he says, a merger is seen as an opportunity for the health insurance industry to speak with a stronger, more unified voice.

Gilbert says Don Young, the current HIAA president, will be leaving the organization following the merger and that all the HIAA members have nothing but praise for the excellent work Young has done at HIAA.

However, Gilbert says, the association can only have one president, and after a thorough analysis, Karen Ignagni was named president of the new group.

As for the the rest of the staff, Pisano says they will be merged, although she adds there will be some economies.

In terms of public policy, Pisano says both organizations are very close. Both, she says, are committed to supporting the role of the private sector in health care and finding private sector answers to the issues of cost, quality, access and choice.

The new association, Pisano says, hopes to initiate an enhanced dialogue with others concerned with the health care system, such as physicians and consumers.

The new group will also continue to work with business groups, she says.

HIAA has some 300 member companies that provide health insurance, long term care insurance, dental coverage, disability insurance and supplemental insurance to some 100 million policyholders.

AAHP represents some 1,000 health plans, including health maintenance organizations and preferred provider organizations that cover 170 million Americans.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, September 26, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.