Looking for leadership, not more excuses

Bad news keeps rolling out from the Oregon Health Authority. But instead of taking responsibility, Gov. Kate Brown not only ducked it but also tried to spin it as positive news.

The issue is that OHA paid too much to regional health-care organizations, collected too much money from the feds as a result, and might have to repay all of it.

Brown announced the issue in a roundabout way last week, issuing a press release headlined, “New OHA Leadership Takes Action to Resolve Overpayments Made in Wake of Cover Oregon Failure.” It praised new OHA director Patrick Allen “and his team for acting quickly to bring stability and transparency to OHA’s work on behalf of Oregonians. After just two months leading OHA, Allen has directed staff to resolve yet another consequence of the Cover Oregon technology failure. Governor Brown appreciates that Allen is making the resolution of these issues the top priority and looks forward to monthly updates on his team’s progress in resolving them.”

The overpayments were made to coordinated care organizations for patients who were eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare. This occurred from 2014 through mid-2016.

Brown is the state’s CEO. She is responsible what happens on her watch after becoming governor in February 2015.

Mistakes happen. Still, it is disappointing that OHA apparently overpaid $74 million to 16 coordinated care organizations. It is disconcerting that, according to the governor’s office, Brown only learned of the problem when Allen took over as OHA director. It is disturbing that Brown, through her press release, tried to spin the snafu instead of accepting her share of the responsibility.

Indeed, this does sound like Cover Oregon, but not in the way Brown suggested. The Cover Oregon fiasco stemmed from Gov. John Kitzhaber appointing the wrong people to key jobs, not keeping close tabs on the project and accepting dubious progress reports. That also sounds like this new OHA fiasco.

As governor, Brown is CEO of a multi-billion-dollar organization with tens of thousands of employees. A good CEO develops a solid record of hiring the right people, giving them freedom to do their jobs while also staying on top of their work. In that regard, Brown has a decidedly mixed record, although she did eventually oust Lynne Saxton as OHA director and bring in the well-regarded Allen.

It’s notable that Saxton was forced to resign in the wake of another failure of leadership at OHA, as the department sought to undermine the credibility of a Portland health care provider that was questioning the state’s rate-making process. Saxton denied any active role in the plan, but stepped down anyway.

No one, especially a politician, likes to look bad. But a good CEO builds confidence, trust and respect by taking responsibility when things go awry.

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