A top deputy in the DC mayor’s office reportedly told the city’s insurance commissioner he wants to “go in a different direction” — i.e., fire him — one day after the latter released a statement raising concerns about President Obama’s decision to amend his signature health care law. This is another way of saying, “if you disagree with the president publicly, there will be consequences.” Or so it seems:
A day after he questioned President Obama’s decision to unwind a major tenet of the health-care law and said the nation’s capital might not go along, D.C. insurance commissioner William P. White was fired.
White was called into a meeting Friday afternoon with one of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s (D) top deputies and told that the mayor “wants to go in a different direction,” White told The Washington Post on Saturday.
White said the mayoral deputy never said that he was being asked to leave because of his Thursday statement on health care. But he said the timing was hard to ignore. Roughly 24 hours later, White said, he was “basically being told, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’”
White was one of the first insurance commissioners in the nation last week to push back against Obama’s attempt to smooth over part of the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act: millions of unexpected cancellations of insurance plans.
White evidently raised the warning bells because the president’s unilateral delay will discourage young people from enrolling in the exchanges, thus hastening the law’s death spiral. Curiously, the commissioner’s public statement was removed from his department’s website almost immediately:
White’s statement was removed from the department’s Web site sometime before Friday morning. Asked about the removal Friday, spokesman Michael Flagg said the department’s statement had changed.
“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,” Flagg wrote in an e-mail.
An anonymous city official suggests White was fired not because of the content of his statement, but because he violated protocol:
A senior city official said White’s initial statement was sent to the mayoral communications director, Pedro Ribeiro, only minutes before it was issued publicly. It was not sent to Deputy Mayor Victor Hoskins, White’s immediate supervisor, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about a personnel matter.
A formal statement critical of the president should have been closely vetted and approved by the mayor’s office, and White refused to acknowledge the misstep, the official said. White said Hoskins fired him Friday.
White said he thought he would have been derelict in his duties to not quickly make a statement on the president’s announcement.
“Everyone was looking for responses from the regulators. One of my chief concerns is always consistency and clarity in the marketplace — you can’t have something that big sitting out there without responding to it,” he said.
Either way, White no longer has a job. And politics seems to be the reason why.
President Obama moved Thursday to address the uproar over the cancellation of millions of individual insurance policies that don’t comply with the new health care law by giving states the ability to extend existing policies through 2014 — thus shifting a politically precarious decision to state insurance authorities.
That goes for the District, too, whose insurance commissioner said late Thursday that he has not made a final determination on whether to allow D.C. residents to keep their noncompliant plans for another year. But William P. White, the commissioner, hinted strongly that opposed the idea.
“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,” White said in a statement.
He also pointed to a statement issued by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners that said the Obama order “threatens to undermine the new market, and may lead to higher premiums and market disruptions in 2014 and beyond.”
“We concur with that assessment,” White said.
Granting another year for noncompliant plans — which often have strict limits on the types of care covered and the total amount of coverage offered — would relieve the mounting political pressure against Obama, who has been widely accused of dissembling in promising that people happy with their health-care plans could keep them. But insurers and policymakers are alarmed that the shift will mean healthy people who are happy with the low-premium, high-deductible plans will opt out of the exchanges, thus increasing premiums for those who do participate.
The leading insurer trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, also warned of adverse consequences Thursday: “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,” said Karen Ignani, the group’s president and chief executive.
Michael Flagg, a spokesman for White, declined to comment further, including on when White expects to make a final determination. The statement said the department will be “taking into consideration the views of the exchange, consumer and community groups, other city agencies and the insurance companies as we determine the impact of this shift.”