D.C. official fired after criticizing Obamacare fix

Nov. 18, 2013 at 2:00 AM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- The Washington, D.C., insurance commissioner was fired a day after he publicly questioned President Obama's decision to undo a key tenet of the healthcare law.

William P. White, commissioner for roughly three years, told The Washington Post he was fired Friday after posting a statement on the city government's website Thursday.

The statement said Obama's policy reversal, announced earlier that day -- allowing the continuation into 2014 of insurance policies that don't comply with the new federal insurance rules -- "undercuts the purpose of the [healthcare] exchanges, including the District's DC Health Link, by creating exceptions that make it more difficult for them to operate."

He also pointed to a statement issued by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners that said the Obama order threatened "to undermine the new market, and may lead to higher premiums and market disruptions in 2014 and beyond."

"We concur with that assessment," White's statement said.

A person familiar with the events told The New York Times White requested but didn't get permission from Mayor Vincent Gray's office to publish a critique of Obama's announcement.

Instead of waiting to hear from Gray's office, White's office posted the statement online less than 15 minutes after sending an email seeking approval, the Times said.

The Post cited an official as saying a formal statement critical of the president should have been closely vetted and approved by the mayor's office.

Later, when confronted by Gray, White said he had permission from the mayor's staff to run the statement, even though he didn't, the person familiar with the events told the Times.

White told the Times he commonly sent news releases to the mayor's office as a matter of simple notification and courtesy, rather than for permission.

"In this instance, however, the issue was clearly more political than usual," he said.

White said he did not lie to the mayor when he said he had permission to post the statement.

He also said, "When I issue statements, I am speaking on behalf of the department about insurance, and I don't speak on behalf of the mayor."

White told The Wall Street Journal he realized his "misstep" and apologized to Gray in a voice mail Thursday evening, but it was too late.

Deputy Mayor Victor Hoskins fired White, without mentioning White's Affordable Care Act statement, White told the Post.

He told White simply that Gray wanted "to go in a different direction," White told the Post and Times.

The person with knowledge of the situation told the Times Gray was unhappy with the tone of White's statement, if not its substance.

Asked about the removal Friday, Michael Flagg, spokesman for White's department, told the Post the department's statement 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 said in an email.

White was replaced by Chester McPherson, deputy commissioner of market operations, who is now acting commissioner.

"If I had to do it all over again," White told the Journal, "I would be certain my communications spokesman had gotten some sign-off before we got it out there."

"I was looking at it purely from the standpoint of the marketplace and what needed to be done. The mayor was looking at it from another standpoint. I failed to reconcile those points of view" before sending it out, he said.

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