Shock, speculation follows Aetna's AHIP departure

Aetna's decision to leave America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) might not bode well for the health insurer, nor for the future of the industry's largest trade association.

The move is undoubtedly a blow to AHIP--which saw UnitedHealth exit its membership ranks this summer and has also weathered shakeup among its top leadership with the exit of longtime CEO Karen Ignagni. She was succeeded by former Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner.

But Aetna's exit also reflects what sources tell The Hill is a growing divide among AHIP's members, with some of the larger companies dissatisfied with the group's increasing focus on nonprofit insurers and smaller, regional plans.

"I think you have an association that was grown by Karen to try to be the end-all-be-all of the entire industry, which in theory makes sense," an anonymous source familiar with AHIP tells the publication. "[But] there are very different issues, very different perspective on how to tackle things. That becomes very untenable and tough to hold together."

Aetna's decision might also impede its ability to carry out its own ambitious lobbying effort, as it tries to win regulatory approval for its acquisition of Humana alongside two other merging insurers, Anthem and Cigna. Speaking to The Hill, another anonymous source wondered why the insurer would abandon a trade group with the clout of AHIP--which spent $9.2 million on lobbying last year--saying Aetna's leaders "are putting their brand at risk."

In an email sent to FierceHealthPayer Wednesday, an Aetna spokeswoman declined comment beyond the company's statement announcing its decision to part with AHIP.

Avalere CEO Dan Mendelson tells The Hill that 2016 promises to be a year in which health insurers will increasingly have to defend themselves, but added that Tavenner's ties to the federal government make AHIP more powerful and relevant than ever.

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