Akhter to Request Leave for Health Care Exchange Board

7/6/2012, 4:31 p.m.

The chief administrator for the District of Columbia Department of Health (DOH) is expected to request an unpaid leave of absence in order to serve on a board which governs the city's health care exchange.

Dr. Mohammad Akhter and six other prominent health care professionals nominated by Mayor Vincent C. Gray as voting members of the Health Care Exchange Board, will have to meet approval of a D.C. Council committee. Upon confirmation at the Council's Juy 10 legislative meeting, they will comprise the panel tasked with getting President Barack Obama's health care reform mandate launched in the District by 2014.

"When I came into office, I immediately formed the Health Reform Implementation Committee so that we could continue to move towards fulfilling the federal mandate to implement health-care reform, and I am extremely pleased with our progress," Mayor Gray said. "The professionals that I nominated to serve on the Executive Board of the [health care exchange] are crucial to the success of this project, with an end result of providing quality health care to all of our residents that is affordable and within reach."

The Pakistan-born Akhter is a former District commissioner of health and professor at the Howard University College of Medicine. He has been at the helm of DOH since 2011 when he was appointed by Gray.

Because Akhter cannot serve simultaneously as DOH director and on the board, he is expected to request a leave of absence shortly after being confirmed. Saul Levin, senior deputy director in DOH's Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration, will assume Akhter's post.

Akhter said in an interview that it will be a "great opportunity" to serve on the panel. He added that Obama's healthcare reforms are "extremely important" for both the District and the nation, and that he is poised to spend a year on the initiative, where his participation will help enable uninsured residents -- as well as those seeking better coverage -- to compare healthcare providers and save on their medical expenses.

Overall, "We have to have this whole thing prepared and submitted by November," Akhter was quoted as saying.

The other nominees include Henry J. Aaron, Ph.D., a senior fellow in health care at the Brookings Institution; Leighton Ku, Ph.D., professor of health policy and director of the Center for Health Policy Research at George Washington University; Khalid Pitts, director of Strategic Campaigns at the Service Employees International Union; Kate Sullivan Hare, director of Policy Outreach and Public Affairs at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Diane C. Lewis, health-care policy consultant; and Kevin Lucia, research professor and project director at the Health Policy Institute of Georgetown University.