House scales back insurance compensation demands

House committee investigators are scaling back their demand for information about insurance executive compensation, apparently out of privacy concerns.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Oversight and Investigations subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) have formally requested executive compensation and other information from the nation’s 52 largest health insurers.

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But in a letter sent earlier this week, the two chairmen sought to "clarify" that they did not need the names of individual employees, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Hill.

"While your request should include the title or a description of each individual's position, you may assign a code or some other anonymous identifier to avoid disclosure of an individual's identity," the letter said.

The chairmen said they have also learned that many of the companies that received the letters do not sell comprehensive health insurance, and therefore aren't part of the committee's inquiry. The letter says companies can contact committee staff to determine if they are exempt.

The clarification of the request did not mollify representatives of the insurance industry, who say the inquiry is politically motivated to gain advantage in the health care debate.
 
"This is still a fishing expedition designed to silence health insurance companies," said Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for the health insurers trade group, America's Health Insurance Plans.

A committee spokeswoman said the committee never intended to seek the names of the employees, and the letter sought to make that clear. The committee got a list of insurance companies from the Association of State Insurance Commissioners that didn't separate out companies offering comprehensive health insurance, the spokeswoman said.

Waxman and Stupak opened the inquiry as Congress prepares to go into a full-throttle fall debate about healthcare, and after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made it a point to vilify the health insurance industry.

Their request for information has raised the prospect of high-profile hearings in the fall, with insurance CEOs called before the committee to defend hundreds of millions in expenditures on salaries and lavish corporate events.

Waxman and Stupak gave the companies until Sept. 4 to turn over documents related to how they compensate any employees — including executives and board members — who made more than $500,000 between 2003 and 2008, and until Sept. 14 to supply information going back to 2007 on how much they spent on any events held outside company grounds.

The committee described the effort as part of its “ongoing investigation of the health insurance industry's business practices … on how the companies use the premiums collected from policyholders, businesses and the government.”

— Jared Allen contributed to this article.

-- This article was updated at 5:03 p.m.