Cliff Allenby: A Health Care Leader We Could Rely On

We note with sadness the passing of Cliff Allenby, former Secretary of Health and Human Services, former head of the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board (aka MrMIB), former head of departments without number. As a number of Governors, including the current (and former) Governor Brown note in the Sacramento Bee, he was a true public servant.

We first worked with him late in the Deukmejian Administration when he chaired a task force on universal coverage and produced a report, now long forgotten, which recommended an employer mandate. It was a large, rambunctious task force with lots of ideas, all of which he seemed entertained by. Later he said that Deukmejian had chosen to allow the report to be released but to leave it to the next Governor as to how to achieve universal coverage. No surprise Pete Wilson had other ideas. Allenby also said, privately, that of all the Governors he had known, only Ronald Reagan would have been bold enough to impose an employer mandate. Gray Davis who he also served was the Governor bold enough to sign an employer mandate in 2003. Both efforts at an employer mandate later failed at the polls, the first effort in 1992 conclusively and the second in 2004 narrowly.

When the Department of Managed Health Care was first created in 2000 as a result of legislation sponsored by Health Access, we asked him if he would consider taking over the new department to shepherd it through its first critical years when its mission and focus would be determined. He reacted very negatively, asking if I wanted him to work for a living? I was a little bemused because at that point he was running three departments within Health and Human Services, two of them with a history of various troubles. But so it was (and we were lucky to get Daniel Zingale, an advocate himself, as the first DMHC director).

Cliff was the first public servant that I saw testify truthfully in a difficult situation when lying or at least fudging the truth would have been the easier path. The details of that committee hearing are now long lost to memory but the reality of a civil servant answering questions directly and forthrightly has stayed with me: it is not an easy thing to do. He treated all of us, including a fledgling consumer advocacy organization, as important contributors to the discussion about what the State of California should do about health care. Of course there were times when we disagreed with what an Administration was doing (under Deukmejian and Wilson, lots of them!). But year after year we could count on Allenby to run some part or another of state government. So rest in well-earned peace.