NY Times: Washington Insurance Official Is Ousted

November 17, 2013

Washington Insurance Official Is Ousted

By SUSANNE CRAIG and MICHAEL D. SHEAR, NY Times

The insurance commissioner for the District of Columbia was dismissed from his job just a day after he publicly questioned a decision by President Obama to reverse a provision of the Affordable Care Act, a person with knowledge of the events said on Sunday.

This person said that the commissioner, William P. White, had requested but never received permission from the office of Mayor Vincent C. Gray to publish a critique of Mr. Obama’s surprise announcement on Thursday that he would allow thousands of Americans to renew policies that might not provide the minimum coverage required by the health law.

Instead of waiting to hear from Mr. Gray’s office, the person said, Mr. White’s office posted the statement on the city government’s website less than 15 minutes after sending an email seeking approval. Later, when confronted by the mayor, Mr. White said he had received permission from the mayor’s staff even though he had not, the person said.

In an interview on Saturday, Mr. White said that Victor L. Hoskins, Washington’s deputy mayor, told him that the mayor had “decided to go in a different direction” and that Mr. White’s services would no longer be needed. Mr. White, who had been commissioner for roughly three years, said his statement on the Affordable Care Act was not mentioned during his conversation with Mr. Hoskins.

Mr. White said that although he did send releases to the mayor’s office, it was not his normal practice to wait for the mayor or the mayor’s office to sign off. He added that he did not misrepresent to the mayor that he had permission to send out the release.

Michael M. Flagg, a spokesman for Mr. White, referred questions to the mayor’s office, saying he could not discuss personnel matters.

Mr. White’s statement took direct issue with Mr. Obama’s decision, saying the president’s policy reversal to allow the continuation of canceled policies “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.”

Mr. Obama had been criticized heavily over the canceled policies because he had said many times that people who liked their insurance would be able to keep it under the new law. Mr. Obama’s reversal, which allows states to continue policies that had been canceled but does not require that they do so, threw the issue into the laps of insurance companies and insurance commissioners like Mr. White, who typically regulate insurance policies.

In a meeting with Mr. Obama at the White House on Friday, executives for the major insurance companies expressed mixed feelings about whether the continuation of canceled policies could work in every state.

At the same time, several insurance commissioners voiced their opinions on the move.

“I do not believe his proposal is a good deal for the State of Washington,” Mike Kreidler, the insurance commissioner there, said Thursday. “In the interest of keeping the consumer protections we have enacted and ensuring that we keep health insurance costs down for all consumers, we are staying the course.”

The commissioner in Florida, by contrast, supported the proposal.

The person with knowledge of the situation said that Mayor Gray was unhappy with the tone of Mr. White’s statement, if not the substance of its arguments.

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