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New health exchange boss in NM survived controversy in Idaho

By   /   July 23, 2014  /   No Comments

COMING TO NEW MEXICO FROM IDAHO:  Amy Dowd, the new executive director of the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange, comes highly recommended but she had to weather some controversy.

COMING TO NEW MEXICO FROM IDAHO: Amy Dowd, the new executive director of the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange, comes highly recommended but she had to weather some controversy.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE, N.M. — The New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange has hired a new executive director who received positive recommendations for running the exchange in Idaho, despite controversy over a no-bid contract that was granted and then rescinded last fall.

“She’s done a good job,” Idaho state Sen. Jim Rice, a Republican, said of Amy Dowd, to whom the board members at NMIX unanimously voted earlier this month to offer the job running the state’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act, colloquially called “Obamacare.”

Rice is a member of the “Your Health Idaho” board and sharply criticized Dowd after it was revealed a board member, Frank Chan, had been awarded a $375,000 technology contract by Dowd even though no bids from outside vendors were offered. Chan ended up quitting the same day the contract was announced.

“She made a dumb mistake,” Rice told New Mexico Watchdog in a telephone interview. “She hasn’t repeated it. You just don’t hire someone on your board.”

The contract led to a two-week investigation, but the board of the Idaho health exchange made no personnel changes and Dowd remained as executive director.

“The mistakes were not solely hers,” Idaho state Sen. Fred Martin, a Republican, told New Mexico Watchdog.

Despite saying at the time he was “was very upset when I learned of the contract being issued without approval from the board of directors,” Martin said Monday, “I’m pleased with (Dowd’s) performance here” and went so far as to say Dowd “has done an extremely good job running the exchange.”

Even Rice, who called for Dowd’s dismissal when the story broke, said Monday that Dowd “overall is somebody who is quite capable” and pointed to the success of the Idaho exchange under Dowd’s watch. “We have one of the highest enrollment rates, per capita, nationwide,” Rice said.

An email to Dowd asking for an interview was not returned.

NMHIX board member Dr. Deane Waldman said the board was aware of the flap over the no-bid contract.

“It did not cause any concerns,” Waldman said, describing Dowd as “the implementer, not the decision-maker.”

“The issue was really about making political hay,” Waldman said.

NMHIX officials announced Tuesday that Dowd will earn $199,000 a year and be eligible for a 10 percent performance bonus as part of her two-year contract. Dowd is expected to start in August. Dowd’s salary in Idaho was $175,000.

“We need a real visionary and the board got a sense from her that she could think beyond the lines,” Waldman said.

The New Mexico exchange has been run on an interim basis by Mike Nuñez. “He’s a wonderful manager and we couldn’t have gotten where we’re at without him,” Waldman said.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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Since 2010, Rob Nikolewski has covered New Mexico politics and investigated fraud, waste and abuse in government. He also writes an opinion column in the Sunday editions of the Santa Fe New Mexican. Rob joined New Mexico Watchdog after 20 years in television as a sports anchor and reporter. He anchored at MSNBC, New York City, Boston, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Reno and Boise, winning three regional Emmy awards along the way. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, a master's in public administration from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and a bachelor's degree in journalism from Trinity University in San Antonio.