After meeting, Muriel Bowser says Boehner is more interested in ‘national agenda’ than D.C. marijuana vote

District of DeBonis

After meeting, Muriel Bowser says Boehner is more interested in ‘national agenda’ than D.C. marijuana vote

By Mike DeBonis, Washington, Post, January 27 at 3:37 PM

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser met with House Speaker John Boehner on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. (File photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser climbed Capitol Hill on Tuesday for a series of meetings with federal lawmakers — including two Democrats holding ranking positions on key committees, as well as the man who, more than any other, controls the fate of District matters in Congress: House Speaker John A. Boehner.

After the meetings, Bowser (D) said she was encouraged that Boehner (R-Ohio) was too busy dealing with the national issues on his plate — including soon-to-lapse homeland security appropriations and an expiring debt ceiling authorization — to try to micromanage District affairs. That includes, she said, the marijuana legalization initiative passed by D.C. voters on Nov. 4, which is now on Capitol Hill for a 30-legislative-day review period.

“He really reiterated his focus on a national agenda, and we talked about some things that are important to us,” Bowser said. “[Marijuana] came up in that I expressed to him, certainly, our interest in respecting the will of the voters. And I think that, again, his focus is not on the local affairs of D.C.”

Boehner was more eager to talk about one of his longtime pet issues: the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, aka vouchers for private school tuition funded by Congress. “They discussed a range of issues, but the speaker’s top priority was continued support of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships,” said spokesman Michael Steel.

The voucher program has been a point of friction between congressional Republicans, who support maintaining and expanding the program, and national Democrats, who oppose the program on ideological grounds — including that many vouchers are used at religious schools. The Obama administration has proposed ending the program, but it has been preserved for current enrollees after budget negotiations with Republicans.

Boehner has spoken passionately about his support for Catholic schools and has made the voucher program a matter of personal interest. Meanwhile, Bowser did not sound inclined Tuesday to insert herself into the voucher battle.

“I’ve been a supporter of vouchers in the District of Columbia … if only for the children who are in the program. I think that the program should live up to its promise and allow them to matriculate,” she said. “When the Opportunity Scholarships were first introduced, I think our school system was in a very different place. I actually think that the quality and choice in our city has improved very much since then, and that’s one reason why we’re attracting families to the District of Columbia and to our public schools, all of them.”

Bowser was accompanied on her visits by her transition co-chair, Beverly Perry, and by her new director of federal and regional affairs, LaDavia Drane.

Before meeting with Boehner in his Capitol office, they met with Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Both panels have jurisdiction over D.C. affairs.

Carper said after his meeting with the new mayor that the marijuana initiative was not among the topics that came up. Instead, he said, they focused on “issues of fairness.”

“The idea that if the federal government is having a shutdown, how does that affect the District of Columbia — is that fair?” he said. “If the federal government having problems with our budget and our budget process, and it negatively impacts the District of Columbia, is that fair? Those are the kinds of issues that we discussed.”

More generally, Carper said, they spoke about keeping the District’s interests protected in a Congress now solidly controlled by a party generally seen as hostile to D.C. autonomy.

“I think she can be a very good ambassador for the District of Columbia,” Carper said. “She has a very winning way about her, and I would just urge her not to be a stranger her on Capitol Hill. And I think she can do a lot of good for the District of Columbia just by her personal presence.”

Bowser said the main thrust of the Boehner meeting was to start establishing that presence: “I wanted to make sure that he knows me and keep an open line of communication between the two of us if there are ever any issues in the District.”

She would not say if they swapped cellphone numbers, but, she said, “I feel like I can get him when we need him.”


What Can $268 Million do For Healthcare in The D.C. Area?

What Can $268 Million do For Healthcare in The D.C. Area?

Huffington Post, Posted: 01/12/2015 5:25 pm EST Updated: 01/12/2015 5:59 pm EST

Walter Smith, DC Appleseed

On December 30, the Commissioner of the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking determined that the District-based portion of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield has accumulated excess surplus of $268 million. The Commissioner also determined that approximately 21 percent of this excess ($56 million) is attributable to the District, 26 percent to Virginia ($70 million) and 53 percent to Maryland ($142 million). He ordered CareFirst within 45 days to submit a plan to spend down the $56 million attributable to the District. The Commissioner will have to approve the plan before it can be implemented. Officials in Virginia and Maryland will determine how the $212 million allocable to those jurisdictions will be spent.

It is important that residents of the region understand how this decision came about and what it means to them.

CareFirst is by far the largest health insurance company in the region. Chartered as a charitable and benevolent nonprofit, its obligation is to use the whole of its assets to promote better health for its subscribers and the residents of its service area. But for more than a decade, officials in both Maryland and the District have been critical of the company for failing to meet this obligation.

In 2002, the Maryland Insurance Commissioner denied CareFirst’s petition to convert itself to a for-profit operation and sell itself to a west-coast insurance company. In denying the petition, the Commissioner pointed put that the company had lost sight of its nonprofit mission to the community and criticized it for attempting to sell itself for hundreds of millions less than the company was actually worth.

In 2005, the D.C. Insurance Commissioner conducted a hearing to determine whether the District-based portion of the company had built up excessive surplus that should be devoted instead to reducing premiums and addressing community healthcare needs. He concluded that the company "can and should engage in more charitable activity," and that its ability "to do more for the community than it is currently doing is beyond doubt."

Because the company did not respond by increasing its charitable activity, but instead decreased that activity and further increased its surplus, in 2009 the D.C. Council passed legislation requiring the D.C. Insurance Commissioner to conduct a further examination of the company’s surplus and to order it spent down if the surplus was found to be excessive. The legislation also set a strict standard for measuring whether the surplus is excessive, specifically that the surplus should be no more than necessary to protect the financial soundness and efficiency of the company, while at the same time maximizing the amount made available to address community healthcare needs.

Applying this standard, the D.C. Insurance Commissioner has now found that the District-based portion of the company has grown its surplus far beyond what it needs to protect the company’s soundness and efficiency, with the result that it should reduce the excess amount of $268 million in order to maximize the company’s investment in community healthcare needs.

What this means is that the company has more than enough funds to meet all its operating expenses and pay all medical claims, and it has a substantial amount left over to give back to subscribers and the community.

What this also means is that officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia now have a nice problem to address: what is the fairest and most equitable way to spend this money?

One possibility suggested by the company is that it all be spent on across-the-board premium reductions. Another possibility is to target those premium reductions, particularly for those who can least afford those premiums. Still other possibilities might be to invest in hospitals and clinics, or in school-based health programs, or in public health education campaigns, or in other community nonprofits that are addressing healthcare needs. The amount of money involved — $268 million — is so large that a combination of these and other things could be done.

D.C.’s Attorney General determined several years ago that CareFirst’s assets–including its surplus–belong to the public. This means that all residents of the region served by CareFirst have a stake and interest in how that surplus is spent. As public officials in the region address that issue, DC Appleseed hopes those officials will seek public input to help ensure that the spending is fair and equitable.

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CareFirst Excess Reserves Shouldn’t Be Seen as a Free Pot of Money for the District

Peter D. Rosenstein

Political consultant, Huffington Post

CareFirst Excess Reserves Shouldn’t Be Seen as a Free Pot of Money for the District

Posted: 01/13/2015 12:12 pm EST Updated: 01/13/2015 12:59 pm EST

Recently the acting D.C. Insurance Commissioner signed an order instructing CareFirst, the area’s largest health insurer, to reinvest $56 million in the community based on finding their reserve fund at the end of 2011 excessive. The problems with this order are many not the least being the decision is based on what the reserve fund was three years ago. According to a story in the Washington Post, "the current reserve as of a filing on September 30th of this year (2014) is $824 million down more than $100 million since 2011."

D.C. Appleseed and its executive director, Walter Smith, have pressed this fight against CareFirst for years. While supporting the effort to determine an appropriate level of reserves I strongly disagree with Smith about what should happen to any excess. Smith has repeatedly stated excess funds should be used to fund public health programs. The problem is excess reserve funds come directly from CareFirst subscribers like me and my employees. The District shouldn’t be taking our insurance premiums to fund its programs. That would constitute a tax on CareFirst subscribers not levied on any other residents of the District.

It appears the acting insurance commissioner, Chester A. McPherson, may agree as the order allows any excess could go back to CareFirst’s customers. This would be in line with a report in the Post stating, "Maryland’s insurance commissioner, Theresa M. Goldsmith told D.C. regulators in October that premium relief would be the ‘only fair and equitable manner’ to spend down the surplus."

Clearly the case is complicated by the fact that CareFirst sells insurance policies in Virginia and Maryland as well as the District and is responsible to the Insurance Commissioner in each state. It can be presumed that this order will be appealed and there will be many more iterations before anyone sees money.

In the meantime the D.C. Council should relook at legislation they previously passed that could have the impact of using CareFirst reserves deemed excess on public programs instead of returning it to subscribers. As a nonprofit CEO for over 30 years, CareFirst has been my insurer of choice to contract for health insurance for my employees. Small businesses and small associations such as mine in the District are disproportionately covered by CareFirst because they provide excellent service and generally competitive rates. It is interesting while the D.C. Council passed legislation that could take CareFirst subscribers excess premiums to pay for public programs the District itself doesn’t allow its employees the option of insuring with CareFirst.

Over the years CareFirst has given various reasons for maintaining large reserves. These range from mandates by the localities they serve to having enough available for the regular needs of their subscribers to covering a potential natural disaster or terrorist attack in which thousands may need coverage at the same time.

Currently insurance policies in the District of Columbia including those issued by CareFirst have added costs that cover funding the Insurance Commission. There has also been legislation passed by the D.C. Council taxing all healthcare policies sold in the District to pay for the Health Benefit Exchange Authority set up under the Affordable Care Act.

Should the mayor and Council determine more funding is needed for public health programs, and personally I believe that is the case, funding for the programs should come from the general fund and not from what would be a special tax on only CareFirst subscribers if excess reserve funds were used to fund those programs.

If the excess isn’t returned to subscribers in the form of a rate reduction or rebate it would cause direct and immediate harm. First it would be considered a tax on the individuals, businesses, non-profits and their employees based simply on their choice of an insurance provider. Secondly those currently insured by CareFirst could face a second hit if their premiums were to rise in the current or future years because the District forced the siphoning off of the money they paid in premiums instead of leaving it in the reserve fund.

The role of the Commissioner of Insurance is to protect the interests of those tens of thousands of D.C. residents who paid their insurance premiums to CareFirst and not to find a round-about way to fund public health programs.

D.C. Government: OPM Trumps Local Law on Congressional Health Care

D.C. Government: OPM Trumps Local Law on Congressional Health Care

By Bridget Bowman, Roll Call, Posted at 4:01 p.m. on Jan. 8

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In an ongoing lawsuit challenging congressional health care enrollment, the D.C. government acknowledged that local law does not recognize Congress as a small business — which is seemingly necessary for it to have employees enroll in the small-business exchange. But, officials argued that federal regulations trump the local law, allowing enrollment to continue.

The conservative group Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit in October contending that members of Congress and their staff cannot enroll in the D.C. Small Business Health Option Program created by the Affordable Care Act because District law classifies a small business as an entity with 50 or fewer employees.

In recent court filings, the D.C. government acknowledged that District law does make that classification, but an Office of Personnel Management ruling instructing lawmakers and congressional staffers to enroll in the exchange supplants District law. The OPM also ruled that members and staffers could keep their employee subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Some lawmakers have argued that allowing Congress to receive the subsidy is a misuse of taxpayer dollars.

In a motion to dismiss the case, the defendants, including Mila Kofman, executive director of D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority, stated, “District of Columbia law limiting the SHOP to ‘small employers,’ thereby excluding the participation of Members of Congress and congressional staff, obviously conflicts with regulations authorizing Members of Congress and designated staff to enroll. Where the local statute is preempted by federal statute or regulation, the local statute must yield to the extent the federal statute or regulation applies.”

The latest figures from D.C. Health Link show that more than 12,000 lawmakers and staffers have enrolled in the small-business exchange. That 2014 figure will likely change soon, however, as new statistics on the number of congressional enrollees are expected to be released next week.

Though litigation continues, Judicial Watch was quick to publicize the D.C. government’s acknowledgment that Congress is not technically a small business under local law.

“It may be a surprise to D.C. taxpayers that their government thinks a federal bureaucrat can rewrite both D.C. and federal law,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a release Wednesday. “Members of Congress are relying on fraudulent application information to obtain insurance in D.C. under Obamacare.”

A spokesman for D.C. Health Link could not comment on the recent developments because the case is ongoing.

The D.C. government’s acknowledgment that Congress is not a small business under District law caught the attention of lawmakers seeking to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and particularly Congress’ enrollment in local exchanges.

In a statement issued Thursday, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said, “Nobody considers Congress a small business, which is why I’ve said for months that the Washington special exemption is unlawful and just plain unfair. I’ll continue to fight against the egregious misuse of the small business exemption so that all Washington insiders – including President Obama and each and every Member of Congress – are forced to live under Obamacare just like the rest of America without a special taxpayer funded subsidy.”

Bowser names Brian Kenner top economic development aide, shuffles agencies

Bowser names Brian Kenner top economic development aide, shuffles agencies

By Jonathan O’Connell January 8 at 11:15 AM

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has appointed Brian Kenner as her deputy mayor for planning and economic development, recruiting him from the City of Takoma Park, where he served as city manager since the summer of 2013.

Kenner is a veteran of the deputy mayor’s office, having served as chief of staff there under former mayors Vincent C. Gray and Adrian M. Fenty, giving him familiarity with the wide array of real estate projects, housing and business incentives for which he will be responsible. A D.C. resident and native of Iowa, he is a former staffer at Fannie Mae and the real estate services firm JLL.

Brian Kenner, Muriel Bowser’s new deputy mayor for planning and economic development, will have a broader role that his predecessors. (Jeffrey MacMillan)

Kenner is the latest Bowser cabinet pick, following the appointments of a city administrator, chief of staff and officials overseeing education, health, homelessness, the environment and other areas. Mayoral spokesman Michael Czin confirmed Kenner’s selection.

Among his responsibilities will be determining how to bring down housing costs, attract businesses and advance development projects including remakes of the St. Elizabeths campus, the former Walter Reed army hospital and potentially the Reeves Center municipal building on U Street.

“Economic development and job creation are driving forces of the District’s economy and I am thrilled to return to this vibrant and diverse city,” Kenner said in a press release. “My job on day one is to provide residents and businesses the top notch quality of services they deserve and expect from a world-class city.”

Kenner will also enjoy a much wider purview of responsibility than his predecessor and former boss, Victor L. Hoskins, who was recently named director of economic development in Arlington. (Hoskins was replaced in D.C. on an interim basis by Jeffrey Miller).

According to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the mayor had not yet made the details public, Kenner will oversee the Department of Transportation (DDOT), the Department of the Environment (DDOE) and the Taxicab Commission. That’s in addition to oversight of housing, employment, permitting, planning, banking/insurance regulation, small business development, the Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, the Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Office of the Tenant Advocate.

The expanded purview of economic development could raise some eyebrows because, in addition to the operational responsibilities of overseeing the transportation department — such as plowing snow — the portfolio includes more agencies that have a regulatory role over development and businesses.

That was already the case for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking, but will also now be true for city’s energy department. In the past, that agency has raised concerns about real estate projects being pushed by economic development officials, such as the Costco-anchored Shops at Dakota Crossing in Northeast, which was developed only after the Gray’s economic development team agreed to make concessions to preserve wetlands there. Bowser (D) has appointed former council member Tommy Wells as director of the Department of the Environment.

The official said the realignment makes sense because every economic development project already touches on transportation and the environment. The D.C. streetcar line, which is undergoing testing and could begin operations later this month, has been touted for its economic development potential. The official compared the energy department’s role to that of the National Park Service, which has both conservation and planning roles.

“It’s really not going to affect DDOE’s regulatory role at all, it’s really just about trying to get better coordination between the agencies,” the official said.

Kenner is also expected to have a partner in addressing the concerns of the District’s less fortunate, as Bowser is expected to fulfill a campaign promise in creating the position of Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity. She has not named someone to fill that role or detailed the responsibilities of the post.

Kenner will serve beneath Rashad M. Young, Bowser’s new city administrator, alongside Jennifer C. Niles, deputy mayor for education, Kevin Donahue, deputy city administrator, and Brenda Donald, deputy mayor for health and human services.

Staff writer Mike DeBonis contributed.

Mayor Bowser Announces Additional Staff Hires

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mayor Bowser Announces Additional Staff Hires

(Washington, DC) – Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the appointments of LaDavia Drane, as Director of the Office of Federal and Regional Affairs, Maia Estes, as Director of the Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs, Ronald Ross, as Deputy Director of the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel, and Jenny Reed, as Deputy Budget Director.

“I am excited to have these experienced professionals join my administration,” said Mayor Bowser. “They are passionate about public service, and I look forward to having them on our team. We are moving forward with our goal to provide a more accountable and trustworthy government for all 8 wards.”

LaDavia Drane recently served as the Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus. LaDavia’s tenure on Capitol Hill began in 2009 when she joined the office of her hometown Member of Congress, Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge. LaDavia first served Congresswoman Fudge and the people of Ohio’s Eleventh Congressional District as Legislative Counsel and was later promoted to Legislative Director.

LaDavia earned her B.S. from Miami University’s Richard T. Farmer Business School and her J.D. from Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Following law school, LaDavia practiced law at Ulmer & Berne LLP in Cleveland where her areas of practice were business litigation, employment law, real estate, ERISA, and regulatory compliance.

LaDavia has served as Director of Legislation and Regulatory Affairs for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, where she worked to expand access to basic banking services and advocated for affordable housing and job development for low- and moderate-income communities. She also served as Senior Director of Government Affairs at the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), a member organization representing the world’s largest food manufacturers, grocers, and restaurants. LaDavia advocated for GMA’s members before Congress, the White House, and federal agencies on policy issues related to health and nutrition, product labeling, and hunger policy.

Maia Hunt Estes recently served as Chief of Staff of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Maryland since January 2012. Ms. Estes’s tenure as Chief of Staff was distinguished by innovative legislative achievements as well as the Office’s expanding role in economic development. In 2013, the Lt. Governor was honored as one of Governing Magazine’s Elected Officials of the Year, in part as recognition of the Office’s successful effort to pass legislation establishing Health Enterprise Zones, which are targeted at eliminating health disparities across the state. Additionally, under her leadership, the administration passed public-private partnership (“P3”) legislation which paved the way for Maryland to secure federal funding and build the Purple Line as a P3 project.

Prior to her involvement with Maryland politics and government, Ms. Estes worked at Purrington Moody Weil LLP in North Carolina as an Associate focused on corporate transactional law. Ms. Estes earned a BA degree in English from Spelman College, graduating cum laude. She earned her JD from Georgetown University Law Center and completed a year as a visiting student at New York University Law School.

Ronald R. Ross is an attorney who has served as legal counsel with expertise in project development and finance, mergers, acquisitions and business ventures, renewable energy and general corporate counsel. A graduate of Harvard Law School and Yale College, Ronald Ross practiced law in Washington, DC as a partner at Troutman Sanders LLP since 1997. He also served as legal counsel at Edison Mission Energy and the SEC and New York Stock Exchange. Ross is a member of the DC Bar and recently worked as a corporate legal consultant in connection with partnerships and the formation of development companies.

Jenny Reed recently served as the Deputy Director, DC Fiscal Policy Institute since 2008. Reed is widely recognized as an expert on the DC budget, affordable housing, poverty and income trends, and tax policy. Her research has contributed to a number of important budget and policy outcomes, including increased funding to address the city’s affordable housing shortfall, improved public access to key DC budget information, and improvements to policies governing the city’s financial reserves. Jenny serves as a member of the Board of Commissioners for the DC Housing Authority. She was appointed to the Board in April 2012 by the DC Consortium of Legal Service Providers to serve in the Housing Advocate position. During tax season, she volunteers her time to help low income families prepare and file their taxes for free. Jenny holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Rhode Island and a Masters in Public Policy from George Washington University.