The leader of Orange County’s publicly-funded health insurance plan for one in every four OC residents is on his way out the door, less than a year after getting the permanent job.

Richard Sanchez, who led the county Health Care Agency before moving over to the health plan CalOptima in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, told his board members Thursday morning he’s resigning in 60 days, effective Nov. 7.

The choice for replacing Sanchez falls to the CalOptima board, headed by Chairman Andrew Do.

There was no word on why Sanchez was resigning. He didn’t immediately return a phone message left with his office.

The move comes amid reports that Do, the chairman of the OC Board of Supervisors and CalOptima’s board, is looking at moving Dr. Clayton Chau over to the CalOptima CEO job from his current position leading the Health Care Agency.

Do didn’t immediately return a phone message asking if he’s planning on doing so.

Asked Thursday if he has comment on Sanchez resigning, and whether he’s considering the top CalOptima job, Chau replied that he’s on vacation and just heard about Sanchez’ resignation.

He didn’t respond to a follow-up text asking if there’s any truth to reports that Do wants to move him over to the CalOptima CEO position.

CalOptima manages the healthcare of hundreds of thousands of low-income Orange County children, adults, seniors, and people with disabilities – including about one quarter of all residents and one third of all children.

Its multi-billion budget comes primarily from federal and state funds, via the publicly-funded health programs Medical and Medicare.

When reached by phone, CalOptima’s chief operating officer, Ladan Khamseh, told Voice of OC she wishes Sanchez well in his future endeavors.

“I’m sure the board would make a determination in terms of his replacement,” she added when asked who will fill in as interim CEO.

CalOptima’s board members are:

  • Do, the OC Board of Supervisors Chairman
  • Chau, the county health officer and director of the OC Health Care Agency
  • Clayton Corwin, the president of StoneCreek Company
  • Isabel Becerra, CEO of the Coalition of Orange County Community Health Centers
  • Doug Chaffee, a county supervisor who’s largely allied with Do on health policy decisions
  • Dr. Mary Giammona, a pediatrician who works as a medical director for Molina Healthcare
  • J. Scott Schoeffel, an attorney with the law firm Theodora Oringher
  • Nancy Shivers a nurse case manager with OptumHealth
  • Dr. Trieu Tran, an orthopedic surgeon
  • OC Supervisor Lisa Bartlett (alternate member)

The CalOptima board members are appointed by the county Board of Supervisors that’s also chaired by Do.

There’s a history of turmoil at the top of CalOptima involving county supervisors.

In 2011, then-Supervisor Janet Nguyen worked with a hospital lobbyist to restructure the health plan’s board to enhance the influence of the medical industry.

Two years later, a scathing county grand jury report – called “CalOptima Burns While a Majority of Supervisors Fiddle” – blamed Nguyen’s actions for a disruptive environment that resulted in the departure of sixteen top executives. CalOptima spent much of 2012 and 2013 with vacancies in key positions.

The transition from the former board to a highly inexperienced one also occurred just as federal Affordable Care Act was taking effect and the agency was preparing for a major increase in members.

Later, a major federal audit in 2014 found widespread and systemic performance issues in the agency’s OneCare program, and ordered an immediate halt in enrollment of elderly patients into the program. Those sanctions were lifted in February 2015 and state auditors said they were impressed with the improvements made.

Do, who previously served as Nguyen’s top aide at the county, replaced Nguyen as supervisor in 2015, and the two later had a serious falling out.

Since then, Do has tried to assert his own influence at CalOptima, leading a remaking of the board, attempting to take it over, and trying and failing to become its chairman, before later succeeding in becoming the health plan’s chairman.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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