Mayor Fires DC Health Commissioner

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By C.N. Staff Writer
commissioner-WhiteIn mid-November President Barack Obama announced major changes to the healthcare law, after millions of Americans lost coverage of their existing plans due to the new law. He announced that insurance companies could continue to offer health plans sold to individuals and small businesses that do not meet requirements under the new law that set minimum standards for the benefits that policies must cover.

Under the new rules, people may renew individual and small-group policies, which otherwise would have ended with the new year, until Oct. 1 — allowing them to stay in effect through September 2015.

Shortly after the President made his big announcement, D.C.’s Commissioner of the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB), William P. White said in a statement that, “The action today undercuts the purpose of the exchanges, including the District’s DC Health Link, by creating exceptions that make it more difficult for them to operate.” He further went on to agree with comments made by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners who strongly opposed Obama’s new changes. The association said the new plan “threatens to undermine the new market, and may lead to higher premiums and market disruptions in 2014 and beyond,” and in White’s statement he said he concurred with that message.

Just one day after White made the comments, he was called into Gray’s office and told by Deputy Mayor Victor Hoskins that the mayor “wants to go in a different direction.” White has said that officials have not linked the timing of his comments about the president’s announcement and his remarks to his firing, but thinks it’s obvious that’s why he was let go. “Anyone who looks at his can draw their own conclusions. My statement came out on Thursday, and by Friday [at] 4:15 I was out,” he said. White’s deputy, Chester McPherson was immediately named interim insurance commissioner.

City officials have not commented on the situation, saying they cannot discuss personnel issues, but did say White posted his comments on the city’s website without approval. However, White has maintained that he did seek approval from the mayor’s top officials before posting the statement. He said he sent an email to the mayor’s office and did not hear back, but also posted the statement on the website within fifteen minutes of sending the email.

He now understands that a statement about the President should have been vetted before it went public. He said he commonly sent news releases as a matter of simple notification and courtesy. He said, “The statement reflected concerns but also made clear that DISB would work with stakeholders to determine what would be the best course of action for DC. In this instance the political aspects overshadowed what I believe were the more important marketplace concerns. I have been committed to the exchange idea because I believed it would improve the delivery of healthcare to District residents. I think what we have accomplished goes a long way toward making that a reality. I thought I was doing my job by protecting what we have built.”

He further said, “When I issue statements, I am speaking on behalf of the department about insurance, and I don’t speak on behalf of the mayor. I wasn’t saying I was against it [Obama’s new plans], I also was saying I didn’t know enough to fully support it — I want to be clear, and I think it is, I was not speaking for Mayor Gray.”

White has said that he is disappointed that he won’t be able to complete all things he was trying to do, but also understands the mayor has a every right to change his mind. He said, “I really liked my job with this department and as far as I’m concerned it’s one of the best departments in the District of Columbia. We did an excellent job and those are excellent people. They were a great team and I felt privileged to work with them and to work for Mayor Gray.”

White had served as Gray’s commissioner for the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking since February 2011. Prior to last week, his most high-profile and controversial role had been as chief of the department that took control of Chartered Health Plan, the city’s largest manager of health care for low-income residents, amid questions about “irregularities” in its finances. He has also been very active in policy discussions with the International Association of Insurance Supervisors, the EU-U.S. Dialogue, the NAIC, as well as in the District on local policy health insurance matters.

A spokesman for the insurance department, Micahel Flagg, said in an email, “Our statement now is that we’re taking a close look at the implications of the president’s announcement on the district’s exchange and we will soon recommend a course of action after taking into consideration the positions of all the stakeholders.”

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