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Florida’s attorney general is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into the business practices of two of the nation’s largest HMOs. Attorney General Bob Butterworth is probing the operations of HMOs run by Aetna Inc. and Humana Inc. The state attorney general’s office confirmed the investigation, saying that, among other things, it is looking at allegations that the companies awarded doctors financial incentives to steer patients away from costly treatments. Similar allegations have been made in a national class-action suit filed against seven HMOs, including Aetna and Humana. The other HMOs sued in the class action, but not subjects of the probe, are: Cigna, Foundation Health Systems, Pacificare Health Systems, Prudential and United Healthcare. The state investigation into Aetna and Humana, which together have about 738,000 subscribers in Florida, was not prompted by the lawsuit, said assistant attorney general Keith Vanden Dooren. Rather, he said, it was prompted by media reports and complaints filed with the Florida Department of Insurance, which is assisting the probe. The Humana investigation began Oct. 25, 1999, and the Aetna one on May 1. The investigation is being conducted under state Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statutes. Once reserved for fighting organized crime, RICO more recently has been used against businesses. Humana lawyer Brian Boyle and Aetna spokeswoman Joyce Oberdorf both said they don’t comment on ongoing investigations. The previously unreported investigation came to light in court documents concerning the class-action case. That suit has been brought by some of the same attorneys who helped Butterworth win billions in a fight against Big Tobacco on behalf of Florida smokers. Vanden Dooren said the state will likely share information and discovery from the investigation with lawyers involved in the civil action. “We don’t shy away from talking to plaintiffs’ lawyers,” Vanden Dooren said. The lawyers fighting the HMOs include Richard Scruggs, the famed Mississippi lawyer featured in the film “The Insider,” who won $300 million in attorneys fees from Big Tobacco, and David Boies, who worked with the U.S. Department of Justice on the Microsoft antitrust case. The probe came to light in a memo filed with the federal Judicial Multidistrict Litigation Panel, which on Monday decided to consolidate the national class-action suits into a single federal court in Miami. The state filed the memo in support of a motion for consolidation filed by the 45 or so law firms involved in the national litigation, which eventually could affect some 80 million subscribers. The memo said that state investigators in Florida already have obtained 20,000 documents, have taken “a myriad of witness statements” and have asked the panel to consolidate the cases in Miami. The stance pitted Butterworth against Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who has filed a class-action suit against four other health insurers and wanted some of the national cases consolidated in his state. Although Aetna is not one of the companies that the state of Connecticut sued, it is based in Connecticut and “there is reason to believe that a substantial amount of documents and witnesses will be located in Connecticut,” Blumenthal said in his own memo to the multidistrict litigation panel. But, the panel clearly agreed with Butterworth, who wrote that neither Aetna nor Humana is a defendant in the Connecticut suit. Humana, stated the memo, has about 371,000 enrollees in Florida, more than in any other state. (Aetna has about 367,000 subscribers in Florida.) The memo cited the ongoing state investigation as another reason the cases should be consolidated in Miami. The case marked the first time that Butterworth has personally appealed to the multidistrict litigation panel on behalf of a civil action, said Vanden Dooren. “It is very helpful to have actions in your home state,” he said, “so you don’t have to go traipsing all over the country.”

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