The CalOptima board of directors didn’t appoint anyone as its acting chief executive officer Thursday, instead turning the job over to the committee that is seeking a permanent top manager for the $1.4-billion health plan for the county’s poor and disabled.

Asked whether someone would be in place by the board’s September 6 meeting, Chairman Mark Refowitz, who also heads the county’s Health Care Agency, said, “That’s the hope.”

Michael Engelhard, who was acting CEO, is leaving this month to head up Ventura County’s Gold Coast Health Plan.

At least 14 top- and mid-level executives have left CalOptima in recent months for positions in private industry or government, leaving key positions vacant or with temporary leaders.

Board member Ed Kacic also resigned this week as part of the turmoil created in the health plan by Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen’s reorganization of the board and by anonymous allegations against Kacic. Another board member, so far unnamed, also is under investigation by the in-house compliance officer, Denise Corley.

CalOptima, the county’s largest agency, serves about 430,000 low-income, disabled and elderly residents. Its funds come from federal and state governments and not from the county.

The health plan is conducting a nationwide search for a new permanent CEO. The outside firm that is seeking candidates told the board last month the permanent CEO could be in place in November, allowing time for screening and interviewing the pool of candidates.

Health plan management can be very complex, especially now that the U.S. Supreme Court allowed President Obama’s Affordable Care Act to proceed and pave the way for more than 100,000 new CalOptima enrollments by 2014.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the CalOptima board would cut short its national search and try to hire a permanent CEO before November.

During the board meeting, Refowitz said there was an “outstanding pool of candidates” for the selection committee to consider.

Rumors have circulated around the county Board of Supervisors offices that at least one former county manager with close ties to a supervisor is lobbying for the post, although he has no health plan experience.


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