A subcommittee of the board of directors for Idaho’s government-run health insurance exchange met Thursday at the Boise offices of the Hawley Troxell Law Firm, the exchange’s legal counsel. At issue for the subcommittee was establishing performance evaluations for the exchange’s executive director, as well as other exchange employees.
“Basically, we’re lucky that the Legislature hasn’t been in session these past several months,” said Tom Shores, a board member of the exchange, as he acknowledged that the exchange’s staff and operations have been subject to controversy and disappointment since the formation of the board of directors and the hiring of the executive director, Amy Dowd, in the spring.
“The world has changed since April and it will change again. I think we need to expect that she (Dowd) will be called to testify before legislative committee hearings. We all need to be prepared for this,” said Shores.
During the nearly 90-minute open meeting, chaired by personnel subcommittee member Margaret Henbest, much of the discussion focused on establishing both the process of evaluating Dowd and the criteria or, as board members described it, the “competencies” by which Dowd will be evaluated.
“First, there needs to be clear expectations established,” noted Tresa Ball of the HR Precision consulting firm in Boise, a company contracted to advise the exchange on personnel issues. “Then there needs to be on-going coaching and, thirdly, there needs to be an evaluation after that.”
“I’m more focused on how do we evaluate the essential competencies of the executive director position,” responded Zelda Geyer-Sylvia, an executive with Blue Cross of Idaho and a member of the exchange’s board of directors. “And do we even have a job description for our executive director? I’m not aware.”
“We were so busy in the beginning,” Henbest replied, noting that Dowd found herself amid a rapid-paced process to launch the exchange and that a precise job description for the position had not been crafted.
Concerns about Dowd and her performance arise at a strategic time for the exchange. According to the New York Times, among the 15 states that have attempted to create their own insurance exchanges, four of them have already had their executive directors leave since the launch of the Obamacare websites on Oct. 1 of this year.
Both the functionality of Idaho’s insurance exchange and Dowd’s management of it have been subjects of controversy during that same period, yet the activities of both Dowd and the members of the board of directors have been subject to controversy nearly since the exchange’s inception.
When it was announced on April 24 that Dowd had been hired for an annual salary of $175,000 (a salary higher than that of Gov. Butch Otter and several other state government officials), members of the board of directors were dismissive of questions about the hiring process.
Noting that he did not believe there needed to be any public vetting process for Dowd’s hiring, board chairman Stephen Weeg told IdahoReporter.com at that time that “the insurance exchange is a quasi-governmental entity, and we just have a lot to do in a very short period of time.” Noting that the technical, legal definition of the type of entity is “corporate body politic,” Weeg added that “I think we’re all just figuring out what exactly this means.”
In June, the board of directors drew criticism from members of the Legislature when it authorized Richard Armstrong, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, to transfer $385,000 out of his department accounts and into the exchange. The exchange had Dowd’s salary and other bills that needed to be paid at the time because the promised federal funding had not yet arrived. Nonetheless, the use of those funds as “seed capital” was perceived by some as a violation of the state law that created the exchange. The state law forbids the use of state funds for exchange operations.
On Oct. 17, less than three weeks after the exchange website’s launch, some board members called the exchange a “dismal failure” while blaming the problems on the federal Obamacare system. Dowd told the board that “our federal liaison assures us that the feds are working around the clock to fix this.”
It was also at the Oct. 17 board meeting when Dowd announced that she had extended a $375,000 contract to former board member Frank Chan, a decision that garnered no reaction from board members at the time.
Five days later, amid a firestorm of media and political controversy, the board cancelled the Chan contract and hired an outside law firm to investigate how the incident occurred. On Nov. 12, the board announced that the investigation had been completed, but that the results would be kept secret.
At Thursday’s board meeting, Henbest suggested that Dowd and Ball work together to craft a list of Dowd’s achievements in 2013 and then work on a set of goals for 2014. “We need to sync some of these,” Geyer-Sylvia said. “There’s the calendar year, there’s our fiscal year, there’s Amy’s contract year, there’s a lot of different years involved here. We need to determine which 2014 we’re dealing with.”
Both Shores and Henbest noted that the long-term financial stability of the exchange will be reliant on the number of insurance plans sold through the exchange, and for this reason Dowd’s compensation should be tied to insurance enrollments. “We’re establishing goals for our executive director and other staffers and this directly ties to compensation and compensation ties to the exchange’s finances, which, as we know at this point, is an unknown,” Henbest stated.
“We have several subcontractors,” Shores said to Dowd. “Do we need to do evaluate their performances as well?”
“No,” Dowd replied. “We do not do performance reviews of vendors and contractors. I mean, I’m a believer in real-time coaching, and we know if a vendor is performing, but we don’t do performance evaluations with them.”
“Vendor management is actually on my list of competencies,” Geyer-Sylvia stated.
“We’re spending a ton of money on all those vendors, and we need to know if they are producing,” Shores stated.
Henbest said the subcommittee will meet to discuss the evaluation of Dowd between Jan. 1 and Jan. 10, and then again during the week of Jan 20.