Washington Health Benefit Exchange (HBE) leader Richard Onizuka announced he would step down at the end of the month. Onizuka has headed the HBE since its launch in 2012.
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. If by “serves” people Onizuka means overcharging them for insurance and/or charging them for insurance they don’t actually have, then he has certainly accomplished his goal.
Onizuka is best known for his failure to attract Obamacare enrollees, but getting a retroactive 13% salary increase anyway. During the last period, the Exchange fell short of its goal by more than 20%.
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.
Rather than attracting paying customers, Onizuka appears to have occupied his time playing a highly partisan political game in hopes of getting Democrats elected. Shift recently 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. He did not include a single conservative group in the communication.
The WHBE’s chief of staff, Pam MacEwan, will replace Onizuka in September. Perhaps she will have learned from his many “glitches.”