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Nevada health insurance exchange executive director resigns under fire

Troubles with Nevada’s glitch-riddled insurance exchange may have claimed their first casualty.

Jon Hager, executive director of the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange, said Thursday that he will resign from the agency effective March 14.

Hager’s announcement follows a Feb. 13 meeting where the exchange’s board of directors chastised him for cutting March 31 enrollment goals from 118,000 to 50,000. They also told Hager to put together a “disaster recovery plan” to fix technical problems that have plagued the exchange’s Nevada Health Link website since it launched on Oct. 1.

They said alternatives to consider would include firing vendor Xerox or joining the federal exchange.

Hager said in a statement that “it is time to use my newfound knowledge to pursue the opportunities that have been offered to me.”

He did not say what opportunities he’s been offered.

A spokesman for Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has been increasingly vocal in recent weeks about the exchange’s flaws, released a statement thanking Hager “for his service to the state.”

“The launch of Nevada Health Link was a significant undertaking and Jon worked tirelessly on this unique and unprecedented endeavor,” Sandoval spokesman Mac Bybee wrote.

Local insurance experts said they weren’t surprised by Hager’s departure.

“Looking at Hager’s eyes in that board meeting, he was frail. You could just tell he had had enough of this stuff,” said Frank Nolimal, a Las Vegas insurance broker who offered public comments to the board. “I appreciated everything that Jon Hager stood for, but I believe the failure of Xerox to provide an operative system led to his demise. The walls just crashed in on him.”

Since the system debuted, insurance brokers have both blamed Hager for not being tough enough in holding Xerox to deadlines, and praised him for getting personally involved at all hours of the day and night to help sign up customers. The exchange had 17,047 paid enrollees as of Feb. 15.

In an interview with the Review-Journal a week before the exchange went live in September, Hager was circumspect about the system’s chances for survival. It was important for Nevada to try running its own exchange, rather than join the federal version, so it could save on administrative costs, Hager said. But he also acknowledged there could be problems if enrollments didn’t meet expectations.

“We’d look at what we need to do better, and what we need and don’t need. We’d keep the things that were going well and fix the things that are broken,” he said.

He also said Nevada could let the feds take over the exchange, “But that’s not a good option, so we’re going to do everything we can to keep it from happening.”

The exchange said in a statement that it will consider candidates for executive director in coming weeks.

Prior to joining the exchange, Hager was chief financial officer of the Nevada Public Employees’ Benefits Program, where he oversaw a $476 million budget and served 72,000 state and local workers, retirees and their dependents.

He was also a Navy pilot for nine years. He has a bachelor of science in physics from the United States Naval Academy and a master’s in business administration from Texas A&M.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com. Follow @J_Robison1 on Twitter.

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