HHS Makes Personnel Moves to Better Manage Obamacare

Andrew Slavitt, principal deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Andrew Slavitt, principal deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Evan Vucci/AP

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell on Wednesday announced the appointment of WalMart Senior Vice President Leslie Dach to be her senior counselor and help manage the health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

“Leslie’s experience, which spans the business, government and civil society sectors, will further enhance our ability to deliver impact for the American people,” Burwell said. “We want to not only retain, but also recruit, talented individuals to our mission of ensuring every American has access to the building blocks of a healthy, productive life.” 

As a senior counselor, Dach will work with senior staff on policy challenges, strategic initiatives and engagement with external partners, HHS said. He arrives in time for the health care law’s second open enrollment period this fall.

Dach recently worked with First Lady Michelle Obama on her anti-obesity campaign “Let’s Move!”

Separately, HHS has arranged for Andrew Slavitt, now principal deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to be granted a waiver of possible conflict of interest violations stemming from his previous employment. In a move reported by the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, the former executive vice president of Optum, a subsidiary of United Health Group Inc., can continue to help manage the implementation of Obamacare without waiting the usual one year before performing work that affects his former employer.

“Slavitt’s waiver highlights the revolving door between the federal government and the private sector,” POGO commented, “and underscores the government’s continued reliance on industry experts to manage the rollout of Obamacare.”

The waiver has drawn criticism from Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. Last month they wrote to HHS saying, “As a result of this key technical advisor position, Optum/QSSI will have access to a significant amount of data regarding highly sensitive aspects of FFE operations, including payment calculation for reinsurance, risk adjustment and risk corridors, and the required data collection to support these services.”

CMS spokesman Aaron Albright told POGO that “Andy Slavitt has taken all appropriate steps, such as severing financial ties with his former employer, which allow him to execute his duties as principal deputy and participate in broad policy matters, including those affecting the health care industry.”

CMS continued: “He will be recused, as appropriate, from participation in specific party matters, such as contracts or claims, involving his former employer. However, the terms of the limited waiver ensure that Andy will be able to continue to interact with all of the contractors as needed so the marketplaces will be ready to enroll millions more Americans into quality, affordable coverage.”

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