Attorney general seeks new authority |

Attorney general seeks new authority

Associated Press

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who had a limited role last year in a review of the biggest health insurance company merger in state history, wants new powers to ensure such deals don’t lead to abuses of market power.

Cortez Masto is pushing AB95, which would expand the authority of her office to review future mergers. The measure, already facing opposition from some business interests, follows the 2008 merger between Sierra Health Services and insurance giant UnitedHealth Group.

Doctors, the union representing nurses, Sierra customers and Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons all raised concerns about the new company’s market power last year.

When Nevada’s insurance commissioner allowed the merger to go through, consumer advocates termed the deal a classic case of a regulatory body being “captured” by the business it is charged with regulating.

Cortez Masto said she wanted to investigate at the time for potential abuse of the marketplace, but a lawyer consulting on the deal questioned whether she had standing under state law.

Cortez Masto used the federal Clayton Act to press her case in federal court. But with the U.S. Justice Department approving the deal, she was left with little leverage. She wrung $15 million out of the new company, to be used for health care programs, a small sum given the company’s massive size.

Cortez Masto’s AB95 is written broadly, stating that current state law shall not “supersede, prohibit, bar or otherwise limit the attorney general’s authority to investigate, review and bring an enforcement action against any merger, acquisition or joint venture affecting trade or commerce in any industry in the state of Nevada.”