The Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee Tuesday unanimously approved confirmation of six of the 19 board members who oversee the state’s government-run health insurance exchange. Board members Margaret Henbest, Dr. John Livingston, Jeff Agenbroad, Tom Shores, Fernando Veloz and board chairman Steven Weeg will now face a vote of the full Senate to be confirmed to the board for terms that they are already serving.
During the nearly 45 minutes of discussion, three out of the nine Senate committee members asked questions of the exchange board members being reviewed. All nine of the senators on the committee voted in favor of creating the insurance exchange last year.
During his questioning, Livingston addressed the controversial $300,000-plus services contract awarded to board member Frank Chan immediately after Chan stepped down from the board.
“In October we had the problem of the no-bid contract,” Livingston explained. “I’m proud to say that we identified the problem, sought outside counsel and have corrected the problem. We have taken great pains to be as transparent and as open as possible.”
The Chan contract award was first reported on Oct. 17. After a firestorm of controversy erupted in the aftermath of the report, the board met five days later to cancel the contract.
Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, asked, “you say that you identified the problem with the contract. What was the problem that you identified?”
Livingston cited faulty procurement policies as the issue.
Board chairman Steven Weeg was asked more questions about the Chan contract. “It’s important for us to understand your role in the contract,” Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, stated. “Can you explain?”
“I was involved in the misstep and I was involved in the correction of it,” Weeg responded. “We acted quickly and decisively. We made a mistake, but we are human.”
But Cameron sought additional clarification. “The board has a role to play, but as chairman you have a distinct role to play,” he said. “This may be difficult for you to hear, but we need to know more about your role.”
“Ms. Dowd (executive director of the exchange Amy Dowd) asked me about it, I advised her on the matter,” Weeg replied. “I take full responsibility for it.”
During Agenbroad’s questioning, Lakey said “there were data privacy concerns early on. What can you tell us about that?”
Agenbroad replied “there are always data privacy concerns. But we have spoken with our experts and our exchange is as secure as the Medicaid system.”
On Jan. 16, Sens Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, and Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, both committee members, told IdahoReporter.com that they had questions in mind for the exchange board members during the forthcoming confirmation hearings. However, during Tuesday’s hearing neither senator asked any questions.
Guthrie, for example, previously told IdahoReporter.com that he had questions about the exchange board’s level of transparency, the awarding of the Chan contract and Dowd’s $175,000 salary. He also had concerns about the state exchange’s ability to keep the exchange assessment at 1.5 percent, stating that “I want to ask the board members if we can really maintain that rate. There was talk earlier last fall that they may need to raise the tax in order to fund the exchange, but we created the exchange in part to keep the tax rate down, so I’ll ask them about that.”
Patrick told IdahoReporter.com that “I will be asking the board members if they will make sure to never award a contract like that again. I’ll also ask them how they intend to make sure that it never happens again.”
After the hearing, Patrick told IdahoReporter.com “we heard others ask about the Chan contract and clearly we heard the board acknowledge the problems. I understand how problems like this happen. The exchange is essentially a start-up operation and problems arise.”
Guthrie said that “I actually did get to ask questions of Weeg and Dowd at a committee meeting last week.” He said that he did not ask questions about Dowd’s salary, but “I asked Dowd directly about the tax rate and she made no promise that she could hold the rate at 1.5 percent. She was not forthcoming at all, and her responses were unacceptable. I really wish she could have just replied to my questions, but instead she seemed to be very defensive.”
Guthrie added that he did not believe it necessary to ask board members about the Chan contract. “The board had nothing to do with it, they didn’t even know about it until after the fact. I wasn’t going to belabor the point today.”