Health-care officials across the country resign as Obamacare registration deadline looms

Katie McHugh Associate Editor
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As the Dec. 23 deadline to enroll in Obamacare approaches, several state officials have fled the health-care system, forsaking exorbitant salaries and cushy pensions to avoid grappling with the troubled new health insurance system.

Carolyn Lawson, the information officer of the Oregon Health Authority, resigned on Thursday for “personal reasons,” Oregon Live reports. Lawson has been criticized for insisting that the state was capable of setting up a complex health care system. She has also been knocked for her close ties to Oracle, the state’s primary technology contractor, which has been unable to fix the state’s bug-ridden online exchange.

The website routinely goes down, forcing the state to spend $4 million on paper applications. An additional $10 million was spent to promote the exchange with a series of much-maligned ads. A workable site remains months away.

Lawson earned a $178,992 salary, and was lauded for her leadership and successes after shooting off an email announcing her resignation.

On Wednesday, April Todd-Malmlov, director of Minnesota’s health-care exchanges, resigned after fleeing the country to enjoy a tropical vacation abroad while temperatures in the North Star State hovered around freezing and residents bombarded call centers as the state’s exchange website faltered.

MNsure, the state’s online heath care exchange, doubled its staff to handle the number of calls, but wait times still average 45 minutes, according to The New York Times. To make matters even more frustrating for would-be customers of the state exchange, MNsure automatically ends calls on hold for more than one hour.

The state board was aware of Todd-Malmlov’s last-minute trip, but the state’s Democratic governor, Mark Dayton, supported her resignation, which came after a closed-door meeting and did not include a severance package. Dayton also shouldered responsibility for the state’s deeply troubled exchange, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

“I have been closely involved with MNsure in the last several months,” Dayton told reporters on Thursday. “The buck stops here. … I’m responsible for all that happens in Minnesota. … Next November, Minnesotans will assess the pluses and minuses of my performance.”

Rebecca Pearce, the head of Maryland’s embarrassingly erratic health-care exchange system, likewise quit after a hushed board meeting last Friday night, according to The Washington Post. Publicly, the state praised her “tireless” efforts, but one official under Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley told the Post, “We were unhappy that the rollout didn’t go the way we expected it to go, and so we made changes to the leadership of the project.”

Hawaii’s executive exchange director, Coral Andrews, resigned after the state’s exchange site failed to launch, comparing the site to an unruly child that she was tired of raising.

“The Hawaii Health Connector has been my baby,” Andrews told Maui News. “It has required constant nurturing and attention. Although in many ways it is still growing and changing, the connector has reached a point where I now need to let go and let someone else take charge.”

More heads may roll as the registration deadline approaches — a full quarter of the state exchange directors have resigned or mysteriously vanish with medical leave as burnout takes its toll and nervous politicians eye dangerously low enrollment numbers.

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Katie McHugh