The Chicago Way has a simple formula -- reward your friends and punish your enemies. President Obama plays the game well and rewards those who take care of him -- even when they take care of themselves in the process. The game is being played out at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) where the president has nominated Andy Slavitt to become head of the agency.
Slavitt was the CEO of Optum/QSSI, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation's largest health insurers. In order to be appointed to CMS, the administration granted Slavitt an "ethics waiver," allowing him to receive $4.8 million in tax-free money when he joined the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Optum/QSSI had been building the data services hub for the online marketplace Healthcare.gov under an $85 million contract before it was chosen to serve as the systems integrator in late October 2013, just weeks after the website famously imploded. Slavitt may have played a roll in the contract award.
Slavitt has helped turn Obamacare into a slush fund for blue states who were rewarded billions in federal dollars to build state exchanges. After receiving $179 in federal grants to build a failed state exchange, Maryland sued the contractors who built it. When the state attorney general received a settlement, Slavitt gave $45 million to the state, a nice pat on the back for building the exchange in the first place -- even though Maryland didn't spend a nickel of their own funds to build it.
Taxpayers want to know what role Slavitt had in covering up the dismemberment of Oregon's health care exchange. As you recall, Cover Oregon was killed for political purposes when the Democrat governor, John Kitzhaber, who has since resigned in disgrace, tasked his political director to oversee the exchange. She pulled the plug for political reasons, fleecing taxpayers of $300 million without a howl of protest from. Mr. Slavitt and his team in Washington.
To their credit, the GOP Senate has refused to act on the nomination and is demanding answers. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said, "Mr. Slavitt will need to answer a number of tough questions regarding his former employer and their relationship with the agency" and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) stated, "I have asked CMS to provide details on how it's walling off Mr. Slavitt from potential conflicts of interest. I will continue to ask these questions as part of the nomination process." So far, no answers have been forthcoming.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell often seems to care more about making sure the trains run on time rather than standing up to fight on principle. If there was ever an easy fight to win, this is it. Slavitt is a walking ethics violation with conflicts of interest coming out his ears. One can only hope that McConnell and his allies in the Senate don't cut a deal to see that Slavitt is confirmed.