Politics

Exclusive: Health Industry Paid Acting CMS Chief Millions When He Joined Gov’t

When Andy Slavitt reported for work as deputy administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last June 10, he pocketed at least $4.8 million in tax-free income from major health-care companies.

That’s according to financial disclosure forms obtained by The Daily Caller, now published for the first time.

On June 27, he sold additional stock he personally held, raising his total windfall from the health industry to $7.2 million.

United Health Group was Slavitt’s most recent private sector employer.

The financial disclosure documents permit the public to examine for the first time Slavitt’s financial relationship with United Health Group, which is the largest health insurance company in the nation.

CMS officials have refused to be quoted on the record for this report, choosing to only speak on background.

The agency initially issued a categorical denial to TheDC that Slavitt had sought and received a special “certificate of divestiture,” a loophole which allowed him to indefinitely defer capital gains taxes on the sale of millions of dollars in equities.

But when TheDC produced two certificates of divestiture issued to Andrew and Lana Slavitt — both dated July 9 and signed by the Office of Government Ethics’ general counsel David J. Apol — the agency backtracked.

The special certificates permitted Slavitt to sell 23,711 shares of United Health Group stock and avoid capital gains taxes on the transaction.

On July 9, United Health Group’s stock price was $82.72 — Slavitt pocketed $1.9 million in tax-free income.

That same day, OGE permitted him to sell 11,670 additional shares in the Swiss private equity firm of Partners Group Private Equity, which, according to an Office of Government Ethics official, included underlying health-care investments.

The Swiss per share market price for the stock on July 9 was $249. Slavitt was able to cash in the stock for $2.9 million in tax-free income.

OGE officials defend the practice, saying that the certificates allow incoming government officials to hold equities not tied to their former industry.

But as he entered the sprawling CMS complex that sits on 57 rolling acres in Baltimore County just outside the nation’s capital on July 10, Andy Slavitt was $4.8 million richer than the day before.

From the moment Slavitt’s appointment was announced, independent watchdog groups on both the left and right have expressed misgivings about him, saying he presents a range of conflicts of interest.

Trouble for Slavitt further mounted last July when the administration unexpectedly awarded him a rare “ethics waiver.”

The July 11, 2014 waiver by federal ethics officer Edgar M. Swindell allowed Slavitt to immediately rule on official business that could affect United Health Group — rather than force him to stand down during a mandatory one-year time period as required by Obama’s own ethics rules.

Only about 20 waivers have been granted since the beginning of the Obama administration, according to Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen group.

Michael Smallberg, an investigator for the non-partisan Project on Government Oversight, said the ethics waiver disturbed him.

“It seems to me he is permitted to do a wide range of work that raises conflict of interest concerns,” he told TheDC.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also expressed uneasiness with the ethics waiver.

“The onus is on CMS to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest,” he told TheDC.

“The broad ethics waiver adds to concerns that CMS is taking this [Slavitt] arrangement too casually,” he said.

Holman believes the administration awarded the waiver because Slavitt would have faced so many conflicts he would be continually recusing himself, and could not do his job.