Health care advocates warned Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration and lawmakers about the need to appoint a consumer advocate to the state’s Health Insurance Exchange Board, so when the names of the individuals on the board were released Wednesday evening they were disappointed and angry.
All of the 14 individuals are either members of Malloy’s administration, former insurance company executives, or individuals with political connections. None, aside from the non-voting state Healthcare Advocate, are consumer advocates.
“We are very disappointed that the membership is dominated by insurance interests,” Ellen Andrews, executive director of the CT Health Policy Project, said. “These same insurance interests, that lobbied against health reform in Washington last year, are now in charge of implementing it here in Connecticut. I am very worried for the estimated 140,000 Connecticut consumers in our state who will be forced to purchase coverage through this exchange to get any subsidies.”
Malloy himself had two appointments to the board. He named Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, and Mary Fox, a former Aetna insurance executive and Hartford Hospital Board member.
Jeannette DeJesus, deputy public health commissioner, defended the governor’s appointments Wednesday evening.
“He filled his positions based on the legislative requirements,” DeJesus said. “He stuck to the letter of the law.”
She said Wyman had experience managing the state employee health insurance purchasing as state Comptroller and has extensive knowledge of health care. As for Fox, DeJesus said she was introduced recently and was impressed with her understanding that the exchange won’t solve all the health care systems’ problems. She said Fox believes chronic disease management and prevention are important goals.
Dejesus said as far as she knows Fox no longer has any affiliation to the health insurance industry.
It’s unclear if the same can be said for some of the other appointments made by lawmakers.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney appointed Mickey Herbert, the retired president and CEO of ConnectiCare, an insurance company that serves more than 240,000 individuals in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney appointed Dr. Robert Scalettar, a pediatrician who recently worked for Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield as its corporate medical director, and husband of Ellen Scalettar, a former state lawmaker and Senate Democratic staffer.
House Speaker Chris Donovan appointed Dr. Robert Tessier, the executive director of the Connecticut Coalition of Taft-Hartley Funds, a nonprofit organization representing labor management negotiated health funds.
House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey appointed Dr. Grant Ritter, Rep. Betsy Ritter’s husband, who is a senior scientist at Brandeis University and is interested in the use of quantitative methods in health services research.
Sen. President Donald Williams appointed Cecilia Woods, former chief of staff for the Senate majority office and former aide during the Carter administration.
House Minorty Leader Lawrence Cafero submitted an out of the box appointment with Michael Devine, CEO of Earth Energy Alliance, a company dedicated to reducing the country’s reliance on foreign oil. It’s unclear what kind of background he has in health care.
Rounding out the 14 appointments to the board are members of Malloy’s administration, including Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes, Department of Public Health Director Jewell Mullen, Department of Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby, Insurance Commissioner Thomas Leonardi, Healthcare Advocate Vicki Veltri, and DeJesus.
Veltri, Mullen, and Leonardi are the only three non-voting members of the board.
The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act excluded exchange members affiliated with the insurance industry, and health care advocates, such as Andrews, wondered if some of the appointments of the board violated “the spirit of the law.”
According to the federal regulations, “Exchanges are intended to support consumers, including small businesses, and as such, the majority of the voting members of governing boards should be individuals who represent their interests.”
“I am appalled that nobody thought to appoint someone who would represent consumers’ interests, especially in light of the express language in the federal regulations,” Jennifer Jaff, executive director of Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illness, said. “Another example of Connecticut consumers getting the shaft when it comes to health insurance issues.”
Each state is allowed under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to set up its own exchange board, which will oversee the creation of a system to help consumers and small businesses find health insurance in 2014. It will be main decision making body for the development and operation of the exchange.
“The spirit of the law was to exclude people affiliated with the insurance industry, among others, and keep the needs of consumers and small businesses as their top priority,” Andrews said. “I hope all the members of the Board, regardless of their background, honor the spirit of the law.”
She said Connecticut was one of the leaders amongst states in passing “strong conflict of interest language in our exchange legislation.”
Each of the lawmakers and Malloy were given specific instructions about the type of person they were looking to appoint to the position.
McKinney was supposed to appoint an expert in health care access issues faced by self-employed individuals, and Cafero was to appoint an expert in barriers to individual health care coverage. Donovan was responsible for appointing a health care benefits plan administrations expert, while Looney was to appoint an expert in health care delivery systems. Sharkey was to appoint a health care economics expert and Williams was to appoint a health care finance expert.
Malloy was expected to appoint an expert in issues relating to small employer health insurance, which was Fox, and an individual health insurance coverage expert, which was Wyman.
Neither lawmakers or the administration were willing to comment Wednesday on the others branches appointments.