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Posted On: Jun. 1, 1997 12:00 AM CST

HARTFORD, Conn.-Aetna U.S. Healthcare has pulled out of the American Assn. of Health Plans, a national health insurance trade group.

Aetna becomes the second major plan to leave the association. In 1995, CIGNA HealthCare dropped out.

The AAHP was formed in 1995 when the Group Health Assn. of America and the American Managed Care Review Assn. merged so that the managed care industry "could speak with one voice," according to HMO executives.

A source close to Aetna said the company has chosen to focus its resources on its internal operations. Aetna is continuing to digest its $8.2 billion acquisition of U.S. Healthcare; the acquisition became effective last July. Aetna's annual AAHP dues, which are based on its number of enrollees, are $800,000, or 4% of the AAHP's $20 million budget.

"After extensive and amicable discussions, (Aetna) decided not to join for this year," said an Aetna spokeswoman.

The spokeswoman called inaccurate a published report that Aetna withdrew because other AAHP members would not contribute to quality and outcomes studies. That report also said Aetna was dissatisfied with the AAHP's efforts to counter the managed care public relations backlash of the past two years.

The spokeswoman said Aetna will continue to support AAHP programs, particularly the "Patients First Initiative," an ongoing project to counter negative perceptions of managed care.

An industry source said CIGNA dropped out of the AAHP before that initiative began, partly out of frustration that the organization wasn't effective in countering the storm of bad publicity against HMOs.

CIGNA's decision was "not over any dispute," said a CIGNA spokesman. "We reviewed our expenses, and we had our own state government affairs and federal affairs offices, and we felt our needs were being taken care of."

Susan Pisano, AAHP director of communications, said: "Companies make their decisions based on what their internal resources and needs are. While Aetna is not our member at the moment, they have assured us they are supporting our programs."