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Ewers called Sickinger again and confronted her. Sickinger then admitted that none of the HMO archives, including the CIGNA documents, had ever been sent to records and archives.
Sickinger said the 10 years of HMO records had been destroyed by Department of Insurance employees. She said she couldn't remember when it was done.
On June 15, Ewers called the Attorney General's Office trying to find someone "who could help me get a copy of that contract from the Department of Insurance," she says. She explained that she believed the department either wrongfully destroyed the documents, or was just lying about having destroyed them.
She received a call from attorney Shelby Cuevas. Ewers says Cuevas said she had called the Department of Insurance and discovered the records had been destroyed in "late May." Cuevas told Ewers she believed everything had been done "on the up and up."
The next day, Ewers faxed the Attorney General's Office asking for copies of the two sets of missing ledger cards and the destruction report for the HMO records she was seeking.
Six days later, Cuevas called Ewers telling her to get the destruction report from the Department of Insurance. Ewers says she was stunned when she received the report.
According to the report, Betty Sickinger prepared and signed the record's destruction report on May 18, 1999.
That was the day Sickinger called Ewers at work to tell her the contract she had requested, ISAC 92-001, had been destroyed.
That was four days after Ewers says she set up an appointment to review the document.
The Department of Insurance on June 18 processed the destruction report, two days after Ewers had faxed the Attorney General's Office asking for the report.
Ewers began to suspect a conspiracy.
Department of Insurance officials deny they did anything wrong in destroying those HMO records.
Those records, they say, had been reviewed and scheduled for destruction back in 1997.
The records weren't destroyed because, like millions of documents throughout Arizona state government, the HMO records were subpoenaed as part of the tobacco litigation in Arizona.
"We had to hold on to them," says Sara Begley, deputy director of the Department of Insurance.
The subpoena was lifted by Arizona's attorney general in the summer of 1998. As the subpoena was lifted, mountains of documents throughout state government started flowing toward the state's office of records and archives.
Records and archives officials say they were quickly two years behind.
Arizona statutes at the time said documents had to be held at least five years, then they could be destroyed if they were deemed of no value.
Erin Klug, the Department of Insurance spokesperson, says department officials gave the green light on destroying the HMO documents in December 1998.
Staff members were told to get rid of the documents when they found time. Since records and archives was backed up, department officials say, they would purge the documents at the Department of Insurance. Since the documents weren't confidential, they could simply be tossed in the recycling bin at the department's office.
The HMO records filled 12 boxes. On May 18, four months after they were given the go-ahead, Sickinger, Sosa and another secretary spent the day pulling clips and rubber bands from HMO documents. By the end of the day, they had thrown all HMO records prior to 1993 into recycling bins.
May 18 was not picked for any reason, department officials say. Both Sickinger and Sosa say May 18 was a day their workloads were light.
"There was nothing inappropriate," Begley says. "This was just the department complying with its records retention schedules."
Both Sickinger and Sosa also deny that Ewers set up an appointment four days earlier to review ISAC 92-001. Department officials say that since Ewers filled out no official request form, they have no record of her request.
Ewers says she wrote the appointment time on one of the documents she had copied May 14. Indeed, her copy of CIGNA's list of contracts with the state includes a handwritten note, "5-26-99, 10:00."
And her own records clearly show the department was destroying the records on the day she was told they didn't exist.
"It was all just extremely fishy timing," Ewers says. "And it just happened to keep me from a copy of that service contract that would answer the questions I needed answered."
Ewers then made a request to CIGNA for a copy of ISAC 92-001. One of CIGNA's attorneys wrote back suggesting Ewers get the contract from the Department of Insurance.
She asked again.
The attorney wrote back that "we do not understand your reasoning for requesting another copy of this dated information at this time. However, I am happy to respond to any specific questions you may have regarding the information you previously received." In a phone conversation, the attorney said she also would be happy to review any documents Ewers already had in her possession. After Ewers once again explained that she needed copies of the contracts governing her policies, Ewers says the attorney said she didn't like Ewers' request because it sounded like Ewers was "trying to catch" CIGNA.
On March 20 of last year, after her Catch-22 exchange with the CIGNA attorney, Ewers wrote a letter to Charles Cohen, director of the Department of Insurance. She asked Cohen for the department's assistance in helping her retrieve from CIGNA the records his department had destroyed.