Harvard Pilgrim Health Care announced Monday it has hired former ConnectiCare CEO Michael E. "Mickey" Herbert as a consultant to prepare the company for operations in Connecticut.
Herbert, 68, has a career in health insurance that stretches back several decades and includes time spent on the national health care scene. Most recently, he served on the board of the Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange, a quasi-governmental online marketplace for health plans that will be available to customers in the fall and is part of federal health care reform.
Herbert said he learned last summer Harvard Pilgrim was looking for a consultant to oversee its expansion in Connecticut. Herbert was on the Exchange's search committee to hire its first CEO and the search firm hired by the Exchange for that purpose told him that Harvard Pilgrim was looking for a consultant.
Harvard Pilgrim, a nonprofit health insurer based in Wellesley, Mass., is in the process of getting its health plans reviewed by state regulators in time to offer them to customers for coverage next year.
"As early as August, I was looking at this as a possibility for me," Herbert said of the consulting job. "I was still on the Exchange board then. A couple of things happened. I made absolutely sure that I was not going to run afoul of any conflict-of-interest or state-ethics provisions."
He went to the Office of State Ethics in August to explain the offer and seek an opinion about whether he would be violating the state's "revolving door" laws. The laws prohibit state employees from taking jobs in private industry and then immediately doing business with the state entity for which the state employee works.
An attorney for the Office of State Ethics explained the state's ethics policy in an e-mail to Herbert on Sept. 14, 2012.
"For one year after leaving the Health Exchange, you should not represent the out-of-state insurer (or any other employer) in any way before the Health Exchange," Peter J. Lewandowski, assistant general counsel for the Office of State Ethics, wrote to Herbert.
Additionally, Herbert consulted the legal counsel for the Exchange for an opinion, which he said offered the same advice: he could take the position so long as he didn't have dealings with the Exchange for one year.
Exchange spokesman Jason Madrak said Herbert handled the situation "very appropriately" by engaging state ethics officials when Harvard Pilgrim contacted him.
Herbert said: "I was extremely careful not to get the Exchange in trouble, get myself in trouble, get Harvard in trouble. I mean, I did this the Boy Scout way, and I did it right."
Herbert resigned from the board in a letter dated Nov. 30. He said he started with Harvard Pilgrim in December, and there was no overlap in his work with the Exchange board and Harvard Pilgrim. Herbert was one of the original 14 board members announced in August 2011. The Exchange board is chaired by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman.
"This is a plan I've admired from afar for about three decades," Herbert said of Harvard Pilgrim.
Harvard Pilgrim is ranked as the No. 1 private health plan in the U.S. by the National Committee for Quality Assurance. It has more than one million members in its health plans in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
Much of Harvard Pilgrim's operations will remain in Massachusetts. However, Harvard Pilgrim will likely have an office in the Hartford area that could eventually employ about 30 to 40 people, mostly sales people and those who will maintain relations with medical providers, Herbert said.
Herbert served as president and CEO of ConnectiCare until stepping down in early 2010. He has been an executive vice president of EmblemHealth and founder and CEO of Physicians Health Services. Before he joined ConnectiCare, Herbert was founder and chief of the minor league Bridgeport Bluefish Baseball Club.
Herbert holds a bachelor of arts from Swarthmore College, and a master's of business administration from Harvard University.
Herbert is one of three board members of the Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange who have resigned in recent months.
Jeannette B. DeJesús officially resigned Jan. 4 as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's special advisor on health reform, which included a seat on the board. DeJesús notified Malloy in a letter dated Nov. 9. The Wheeler Clinic in Plainville announced on Nov. 21 that DeJesús would start in January as senior vice president of healthcare integration.
Michael Devine also resigned recently from the state's Exchange board. Details of his departure weren't available Monday.