Reforming the way Idahoans purchase their health care coverage has its perks, including high pay and, possibly within the next few weeks, medical, dental and retirement benefits.
According to information provided to IdahoReporter.com by the Idaho Health Exchange, the agency’s director, Amy Dowd, is one of the state’s highest paid employees and her lieutenants aren’t hurting for cash, either.
Dowd directs the operations of the health exchange, which the Legislature authorized earlier this year in a contentious battle over states’ rights and big government. She’s tasked with building from the ground up an online marketplace through which Idahoans will purchase health insurance with generous federal subsidies or join government-run programs like Medicaid or Medicare.
For her efforts, Dowd, who worked for the Idaho Department of Insurance until she took a job in Oregon in 2011, makes $175,000 annually. While with the insurance department, Dowd did some preliminary work on an Idaho health exchange.
For context: Dowd makes $58,000 more than Gov. Butch Otter, the main backer of the exchange, which came to Idaho as part of the 2010 health reform law known as Obamacare. The state pays Otter $117,000 annually for his service.
The pay makes Dowd the 48th-highest compensated employee in the state in terms of annual salary, according to the 2013 Rainbow Report published by the state controller’s office. Idaho employs about 24,000 workers.
Notably, Dowd beats out Lewis-Clark State College President John Fernandez, who earns just more than $165,000 each year, and Idaho Transportation Department Director Brian Ness, paid just under $175,000.
Ness manages 1,776 workers, or 1,771 more than Dowd. Fernandez oversees 1,131 more employees than Dowd.
Patrick Kelly, the exchange’s director of finance, checks in at $110,000 annually. Jody Olson, the agency’s director of marketing and communications, pockets $90,000 each year.
A little more context: Tom Shanahan, the public information director with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, brings in $67,000 per year. Melissa McGrath, the spokesman for the Idaho Department of Education, earns just more than $71,000 annually.
Alberto Gonzalez, recently hired as the exchange operations project manager, earns $82,500 each year. The agency is also looking to hire a policy analyst soon. It is unclear what the exchange will pay that worker.
Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, told IdahoReporter.com that the salaries of the hired employees are exorbitant.
“I thought we were doing this on the cheap,” Boyle said.
The exchange pays Dowd and the other employees with money transferred from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. When the exchange officially begins operations in the next few months, a fee assessed on each health plan sold through the online marketplace will fund their salaries and other operational areas.
For now, the exchange employees go without health benefits. That will probably change soon, though. Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, said the exchange’s oversight board will likely vote on a benefits package for employees in the next week or two. Benefits could include medical and dental coverage, along with retirement.
The exchange gives workers paid time off as the sole perk.
Packer, who supported the exchange in the Legislature and now sits on the exchange panel, said she “reluctantly” supported giving Dowd $175,000. During salary negotiations, Dowd demanded that figure.
“In order to bring her here, we had to meet that,” Packer said. Dowd signed on with accounting firm Ernst & Young after leaving the Department of Insurance.
Dowd told the board during negotiations that starting the exchange from scratch would require considerable amounts of overtime and she felt her pay should reflect that.
The board voted unanimously to give Dowd the pay she desired.
Another exchange oversight panel member, Caldwell Republican Sen. Jim Rice, told IdahoReporter.com that Dowd’s pay level may come down in the future as the workload eases.
“The start-up situation requires more work than normal,” Rice said. “We’ll revisit that in the future.”
Dowd told IdahoReporter.com the exchange plans to hire two or three more full-time employees by year’s end. She did not say what tasks those workers would fulfill.
The exchange also signed contracts with several consultants, including Rick Moran as a technology expert; Precision will run human resources for the agency; Betty Mills will work as a bookkeeper; Dick Humiston will manage grants; and Hawley Troxell will provide legal services.
Dowd is consulting with her legal team to evaluate if she can release the contractors’ pay level to IdahoReporter.com. She declined to answer questions about their compensation.
The exchange also handed out a $200,000 contract to Gallatin Public Affairs, GS Strategy Group and Burson-Marsteller for public relations and polling.
Note: Austin Hill contributed to this report.