Sen. Bragdon’s new job is a cause for concern
If you tried to reach Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, on Wednesday at the State House, you would have learned from Senate Communications Director Carole Alfano, “He’s actually not here today. He’s at the [Local Government Center] starting his first day.”
Bragdon, a longtime New Hampshire legislator, has accepted a job making $180,000 a year as the Health Trust’s new executive director. He, with a board of directors, will be in charge of a health insurance risk pool that covers municipal, county and school district employees across the state. Many, including State Securities Bureau’s lawyer Andru Volinsky, have said there’s a conflict of interest in having the Senate president leading the state’s largest health insurer in the state — one that is funded with taxpayer dollars. In recent years, the Securities Bureau has been calling for stricter regulation of the risk pool’s financial practices. The state has ordered the Local Government Center — the umbrella nonprofit corporation for the Health Trust and other insurance risk pools — to return more than $50 million to school districts and municipalities across the state.
Bragdon got back to us later in the day Wednesday. He said the state’s volunteer legislators are all in positions that could potentially result in conflicts of interest, and he plans to deal with each one as it comes up, recusing himself whenever a bill is proposed that would directly impact the Health Trust. Effective Sept. 1, the Health Trust will become its own entity, he said, so many of the conflicts of interest that could arise, say in connection with the N.H. Municipal Association, won’t affect him. “They are totally separate,” he said.
Bragdon does not plan to step down from his role as Senate president, instead he intends to be upfront, letting fellow senators know when he has to take a step back.
The 9-year senator said it was in conversation with former interim LGC executive director George Bald that he began considering the Health Trust job, and it was in mid- to late July that Bragdon submitted his resume. “They did not seek me out,” he said. Bragdon was hired by the Health Trust Board, made up of municipal and school district representatives, he said.
But Volinsky told us Wednesday that the LGC has a history of employing politically connected executive directors over experienced health insurance executives. “This kind of brazen move by the LGC,” Volinsky said, “potentially jeopardizes the whole risk-pool model.”
One immediate issue, Volinsky said, is the fact that Bragdon chose attorney Rick Lehman to represent the Senate, and Lehman has held the position for a couple of years. But Lehman also represents the towns, including Peterborough, Temple and Bennington, which are suing the LGC, arguing they are eligible for some of the excess insurance premiums the state has ordered the insurer to return.
Bragdon has a rosy outlook on the Health Trust’s future, saying, “My goal is to stop spending taxpayer monies on lawyers and judges, and just get people together to find some solution.” And he’s confident his reputation and integrity will not be compromised moving forward in his new position with the Health Trust.
Despite Bragdon’s assurances, we can’t help being concerned. It’s been a rocky road for the LGC for many years, and it’s troubles seem far from over. It will be difficult to separate them in public perception when it comes to Bragdon and his political future.