Chris Jennings, the White House’s coordinator of health reform, has resigned six months after he was recruited to try to iron out the implementation of major aspects of the Affordable Care Act.
Jennings said in an interview Thursday that he decided to leave after he landed in the hospital last month with a health scare after working the long, intense hours typical of senior White House aides.
“It helped change perspective, and so did some other sad family events, and it really focused me on the priority of health and family,” he said. “After a lot of contemplation, I decided this was the best thing for me.”
Jennings arrived at the White House as deputy assistant to the president for health policy in the summer, a time when the Obama administration was racing to prepare for the launch of long-awaited health insurance marketplaces — “with a crisis erupting virtually every day,” recalled one person familiar with Jennings’s decision, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a personnel decision.
Jennings is a veteran of many of Washington’s political and policy debates involving health care in the past three decades. And this was his second stint in a Democratic White House; he was President Bill Clinton’s senior health policy adviser from the mid-1990s to early 2001. He then became a consultant, forming Jennings Policy Strategies.
The Obama White House approached him in the summer because of his far-reaching network in the world of health care and his command of policy intricacies. Starting in July, he worked closely with the insurance industry and other groups involved in the implementation of the 2010 health-care law designed to usher in broad changes to the U.S. system.
On Thursday, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough commented on the departure, saying, “We are all focused on reducing health-care costs and implementing the Affordable Care Act. Nobody did so with more intellect, fortitude and heart than Chris Jennings.”
Jennings said: “It has been an honor to help ensure that the promise of affordable, quality health care embodied in this historic law becomes the reality for all Americans. This is the cause of my professional life.” He said that he has not decided whether he will reopen his own consultancy but that he “will always serve in some capacity in this issue.”
The White House has continued to juggle personnel on health care, recently bringing in a former Microsoft executive, Kurt DelBene, to oversee improvements in the online marketplace, HealthCare.gov, and Phil Schiliro, a former chief legislative liaison, to oversee policy aspects of the law’s implementation.