Two state lawmakers called Oct. 21 for cancellation of a nearly $375,000 no-bid contract awarded to one of the Your Health Idaho insurance exchange’s own board members.
Republicans Sen. Jim Rice of Caldwell and Rep. Kelley Packer of McCammon, both of whom sit on the board, said the exchange’s $180-per-hour contract with Frank Chan was overpriced, inappropriate and not in the interest of taxpayers.
The now-18-member board — Chan resigned Oct. 16, hen he was awarded the deal by exchange director Amy Dowd — was meeting Oct. 22 at 11 a.m. in Boise.
There, Rice and Packer say they’ll seek to discard the contract with Chan, who earns only $95 per hour for work his computer company performs separately for two state agencies, the Department of Insurance and the Department of Health and Welfare.
“When somebody is going behind everyone’s back, negotiating a contract for themselves at $180 an hour when they’ve got current contracts with the state at $95, I don’t think that’s even ethical,” Rice said. “It’s not in the interest of the citizens of Idaho and it’s a violation of the fiduciary obligation of a member of the board.”
The Your Health Idaho exchange, created under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, allows people to shop for insurance and learn if they qualify for federal subsidies.
Chan, who didn’t return a phone call, had led the Your Health Idaho board’s technology committee before he was selected by Amy Dowd to oversee the exchange’s technology vendors, who during the next year are slated to replace the glitch-plagued federal enrollment system with state-based software.
The money for that would come from a $50 million, taxpayer-funded grant that Idaho is now seeking from the federal government.
Dowd consulted with exchange chairman Stephen Weeg on the decision to hire Chan but not with the rest of the board.
She contends that it’s within her authority to award contracts.
However, the exchange since May has been operating under only a “draft” procurement policy that doesn’t specify just when competitive bidding is required. The board had initially planned to finalize the procurement policy, but that hasn’t happened, so far.
Dowd, who didn’t immediately comment Oct. 21, has said it was necessary to hire Chan without publicly advertising the contract or seeking alternative bids because Idaho is under tight deadlines to complete its exchange.
But Packer, a freshman House member from southeastern Idaho, said she believes the velocity at which Dowd is moving ahead has outstripped the volunteer board’s ability to adequately monitor staff’s decision-making and make sure money is being spent appropriately.
“Things have been out of control because we were in a hurry,” Packer said. “It’s time to have a longer thought process, to get things back in line.”
In addition to Packer and Rice, at least five others on the board of directors asked for Tuesday’s special meeting.
Among them, House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said he wants to learn more about what led to Chan’s contract — and the rationale behind paying him nearly double what he’s paid by the state — before arriving at a conclusion about the appropriate resolution of the matter.
“There are usually at least two sides to every issue,” Rusche said Oct. 21. “That said, the appearances are certainly not helpful to the exchange and deserve investigation.”