Earlier this month, Washington Health Benefit Exchange (HBE) leader Richard Onizuka announced he would step down by the end of August. Onizuka has headed the Exchange since its launch in 2012. And, if his opinion counts for anything, he thinks he has done a pretty good job.
Onizuka stated that he believes he accomplished his goal of establishing a health insurance marketplace that serves the people of Washington and is ready to step aside. We can only assume that by “serves” people Onizuka means overcharging them for insurance and/or charging them for insurance they don’t actually have.
The reality is the Onizuka failed as CEO our state’s Obamacare exchange. His failure is not so much his fault given the inevitable consequences of the disastrous law that is Barack Obama’s (Un)Affordable Care Act. But, Onizuka did not help the situation. In fact, he only managed to make a bad situation worse, then gave himself a retroactive 13% salary increase ($157,000 to $177,400) for his troubles.
The hard numbers—the only real proof needed—prove Onizuka’s failure. During this year’s open enrollment period, the Exchange decided to extend the enrollment window by two month in hopes of meeting its goal of 213,000 sign-ups—but, as with many expectations of Obamacare, the “hopes” didn’t bring the “change” the government bureaucrats promised.
The Exchange only managed to pick up an additional 16,000 during the extension period for a grand total of 170,000 Washington residents who purchased insurance—that’s 20% short of the goal. Making matters worse, approximately 97,000 people renewed their insurance this year meaning 130,000 people who purchased insurance last year decided not to renew their plan.
As Shift has pointed out, the Exchange’s failure to attract paying customers—not Medicaid enrollees—promises to add strain to taxpayers who will carry the responsibility for the unmet costs to run the exchange. That’s because the exchange is funded through three mechanisms: “a tax on insurance premiums paid in the exchange, a tax on insurance companies selling policies in the exchange and state taxpayer money that funnels through the state Health Care Authority.” If the exchange’s enrollment goals are not met, the money from the premium tax and the insurance company tax is simply not there to meet costs.
Low enrollment numbers is not the only way the Exchange—and Onizuka—has failed. Glitch after glitch has called in to question Onizuka’s reliability as head of the Exchange. Back in November 2014, the Exchange botched the launch of its second open enrollment period when a “glitch” forced the website—which has cost taxpayers millions—shut down on the first day. But, that isn’t the most sinister of the many “glitches” that have impacted the website.
Thousands of Washington State enrollees who signed up and paid for an Obamacare plan later found out that they do not actually have coverage due to a “system of defects and data issues,” in the words of Onizuka. According to Onizuka, certain “defects” resulted in “invoices not being generated or incorrect payment adjustments, resulting in inaccurate statements.” Apparently, the defects led to incorrect billing by Washington Healthplanfinder while insurance companies are “unaware of completed payments.” It cannot be emphasized enough that Onizuka had millions of tax payer dollars at his disposal to perfect Washington’s health exchange
Onizuka has been quick to deflect blame for the Exchange’s failures. In December, when news broke of yet another “glitch” (6,000 customers had their insurance cancelled without their knowledge), Onizuka blamed the IT vendor, Deloitte.
Rather than attracting paying customers, leading and endeavoring to fix the Exchange’s many “glitches,” Onizuka appears to have occupied his time playing a highly partisan political game in hopes of getting Democrats elected. Just one day before he announced he would set aside, Shift exposed Onizuka for sending a letter informing the who’s who of liberal organizations, on both the state and national level, of how the Exchange plans to go about registering voters. These organizations included the Win/Win Network (a liberal attack network based out of Seattle), Project Vote (a Chicago-based voter registration drive successfully run by none other than Barack Obama in 1992), Demos (an organization is financed by George Soros and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (an organization with close ties to the notorious ACORN).
Onizuka did not include a single conservative—or even non-Left—group in the communication, not even in the “CC” list, which also included a variety of far-left organizations, local labor groups which operate in our state to elect Democrats, and a few elected officials. The intent of the email was crystal clear: use taxpayer resources to get Democrats elected.
Given his failure as CEO of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange and his tendency toward highly partisan schemes at taxpayers’ expense, we’d say Onizuka has a bright future in Democrat politics ahead of him.