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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Hogan appointee will lose health insurance in standoff with legislature

Peters, Wendi W webcrop

Wendi W. Peters

An ongoing dispute over two top state appointments will deny at least one of them — a breast cancer survivor — health insurance, according to a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan.

Douglass Mayer, Hogan’s spokesman, said budget language that prohibits the payment of salaries to acting Planning Secretary Wendi W. Peters and acting Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader will likely mean that Peters will lose her health insurance.

“These are dedicated public servants who care deeply about their jobs and the state of Maryland and now it’s at great cost to their personal situation,” Mayer said, adding that the lack of pay would cost Peters, whom he identified as “breast cancer survivor,” her health care.

Peters, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, did not respond to a request for comment. Mayer said she has been in remission for five years but added that the lack of health care would deny her access to her doctor. Paying out of pocket for the coverage would cost her $1,800 per month, he said.

“The juxtaposition couldn’t be any more clear,” Mayer said. “The governor and Secretary Schrader are fighting to protect Marylander’s health care, and Senate President (Thomas V. Mike) Miller and his political lackeys are fighting to strip it from hard-working state employees. Absolutely reprehensible.”

Schrader would not be affected because he does not carry state health insurance.

Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, who is appointed by the legislature, announced last week that her office would not pay either acting secretary beginning with the new fiscal year that started July 1.

Tuesday marked the end of the first pay period that falls completely within the new fiscal year.

Deputy Treasurer Susanne Brogan said the most recent pay period for the two secretaries included gross pay for eight days in fiscal 2017. Two other work days that fell within the new fiscal year were not paid.

The amount for that pay period that ended July 4 “was sufficient to cover the health insurance deduction as well retirement and other optional deductions,” she said.

Brogan said “going forward, whether they continue to receive State health care benefits is a question that you need to ask (the Department of Budget and Management).”

Mayer said the treasurer’s response highlights a contradiction.

“It appears that the treasurer’s office doesn’t want to take responsibility for its unprecedented action,” Mayer said. “Secretary Schrader and Secretary Peters are either legally serving in their positions and the state has a legal obligation to pay them — including their benefits — or they aren’t. You don’t get to have it both ways. Unfortunately, the attorney general’s advocacy of an unconstitutional paragraph in the budget has put the treasurer in the unenviable position of contradicting herself.”

The accusation Tuesday led to one top Democrat accusing Hogan of reaching “a new low.”

“If he feels so passionate about the acting secretary’s health care access, he is welcome to follow the constitution and appoint her to another office in state government that she’s more qualified to do,” said Sen. William C. “Bill” Ferguson, D-Baltimore and chairman of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee.

“The governor’s office has reached a new low,” Ferguson said. “It’s awful that the administration has put the acting secretary in this position. The administration knows how many times we offered opportunities to avoid this situation, each time rejected. What scares me is that it seems the governor just wants the fight, it’s all politics all the time, even if that means using health care access as a weapon. I wish the administration had been so passionate about protecting 600,000 Marylanders’ health care access any time before the day President Trump’s bill died in Congress.”

Peters’ nomination was withdrawn earlier this year after Ferguson’s committee voted to recommend that she be rejected by the full Senate.

Dennis Schrader.

Dennis Schrader.

The legislature then amended the budget to prohibit the state from paying an appointee who had not been voted on by the full Senate. Hogan, waiting until after the legislative session ended, reappointed Peters and Schrader, whose name had also been withdrawn.

An advisory from the Office of the Attorney General confirmed that Hogan was within his rights to reappoint the secretaries but also said the budget language was legal — competing advice that deepened the standoff between the two branches.

“With over 400,000 Marylanders at risk of losing their health coverage, it’s nice that the governor is finally paying attention,” said Jake Weissmann, a spokesman for Miller. “It’s a shame that Governor Hogan’s unwillingness to follow the law is leading to former interim Secretary Peters losing her coverage. Hopefully the governor can find her a job that she is qualified for, without violating the constitution this time.”

For now, both Peters and Schrader are expected to continue to show up for work despite not being paid.

“We’re exploring our options,” Mayer said when asked how the pair could be compensated.

When asked what those options were, Mayer responded:

“When we tell you, you’ll know.”

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