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HealthCare Checkup

The Seattle Times health-care team tracks the local impact of the Affordable Care Act.

November 20, 2013 at 6:35 PM

Exchange board votes to raise CEO’s salary

The board of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange raised the salary of exchange CEO Richard Onizuka by 13 percent.

The increase will boost Onizuka’s annual salary from $157,000 to $177,400, retroactive to August.

All of the board members in attendance voted in favor of the pay raise except one.

Teresa Mosqeda, legislative and policy director for the Washington State Labor Council, voted against the motion.

Mosqueda commended Onizuka’s performance as CEO. But she said it seemed inappropriate to raise salaries “when part of the goal of the Affordable Care Act was to decrease costs to the system.”

In recommending the raise, board chair Margaret Stanley cited pay equity as a consideration.

She said the board hired an outside consultant to find out how Onizuka’s salary compared with the salaries of CEOs at the other state-based insurance exchanges.

The results of the analysis were not immediately available to the public.

But Stanley said the pay increase would bring Onizuka’s salary more in line with the salaries of the other CEOs.

According to media reports, the CEO of Oregon’s exchange, which still does not have a functioning website, makes $181,000 annually. Idaho’s exchange CEO earns $175,000.

The board sets executive compensation for the exchange, which is a public-private partnership separate from the state.

The pay increase came up during the board’s monthly meeting at a SeaTac hotel.

After the meeting, Onizuka said the raise was a reflection of the work of the entire staff at the exchange, which has more than 100 salaried employees.

“It’s not about me, it’s about what we’re doing,” he said. “I feel very humbled and honored to be able to do this.”

Board members praised the performance of Washington’s exchange to date, especially compared with other exchanges that have run into more serious problems.

For now, the exchanges are funded by federal money. Washington’s exchange is on track to spend a total of more than $85 million through the end of 2013, according to Chief Financial Officer Bob Nakahara, who presented budget figures at the board meeting.

The projected budget for 2014 is about $65 million, Nakahara said. But the exchange recently submitted a request to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for an additional $92 million to be spent on technological enhancements and other improvements in 2014.

Starting in 2015, Washington – like the other state-based exchanges – will have to be financially self-sustaining.

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