D.C. insurance head’s Obama blast skirted proper channels

The decision to fire the District’s insurance commissioner came swiftly after he criticized President Obama’s plan to let people with coverage that does not meet the Affordable Care Act’s standards extend their plans for one year.

But D.C. officials still have yet to decide whether they will implement the plan or forge ahead with their own health exchange.

“We haven’t even gotten into the details of that,” D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Monday. “We will ask for input from Health Link, which is our marketplace.”

Mr. Gray said he also plans to speak with Mila Kofman, the executive director of the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority.

A spokeswoman said Ms. Kofman was unavailable for comment Monday.

Officials on Friday fired the commissioner of the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking, William P. White, after he issued a statement critical of the president’s plan — a statement that D.C. officials said was not approved through the proper channels. Mr. Gray declined to speak specifically about Mr. White’s termination.

Mr. White issued a statement Thursday saying the president’s plan “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.”

An official with knowledge of Mr. White’s termination said the commissioner was not fired for the substance of his message, but because he didn’t run it first by Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Victor L. Hoskins, or wait for approval from Mr. Gray’s communications staff before posting it on the city’s website.

“It’s not White’s call to make on his own,” the official said, adding that members of the city’s Health Benefit Exchange Authority board will have to be consulted on future plans.

The official also rebuffed claims that city officials felt pressure from federal officials to act.

“The White House did not tell us to fire this guy,” the official said.

The statement, as well as Mr. White’s biography, have both been removed from the city’s website.

The department’s deputy director, Chester A. McPherson, was selected on Sunday to replace Mr. White, who had been the District’s insurance commissioner since 2011.

“It’s unfortunate to see him have to leave in this manner,” said D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange, who heads the committee that oversees the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking.

But Mr. Orange, at-large Democrat, added that he thought the opinion was one city officials should have come to collectively.

“I think that there should have been coordination, especially when you are taking on the president of the United States,” he said.

A spokesman for the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking declined to comment as did a spokesman for the city’s Health Benefit Exchange Authority.

Mr. White and Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler were among the first regulators to raise concerns Thursday about the president’s decision to delay enforcement of the Affordable Care Act’s minimum coverage standards that require insurers to cover a range of services and scrap coverage that the law’s supporters viewed as substandard.

The warnings came on top of concerns from America’s Health Insurance Plans President Karen Ignani, who said “changing the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers.”

District lawmakers said the city’s health exchange has run smoothly since opening. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson framed Mr. White’s dismissal as an unnecessary distraction.

“What the former insurance commissioner said was similar to what has been said by other state insurance commissioners,” Mr. Mendelson, a Democrat, said. “So it would have just blended into the background with that.”

As of Wednesday, the exchange authority reported that 19,706 accounts had been created on its website and 1,350 applications for full-price coverage had been completed.

“The city did well in setting up D.C. Health Link and we were one of the ones that successfully implemented our program,” Mr. Orange said. “Now we have to see how we will work to reconcile with the president’s new pronouncement.”

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