Paul Offner, whose varied career in healthcare and outspoken nature often placed him in the spotlight, died April 20 of cancer at the Washington (D.C.) Home hospice. He was 61.
Offner was most recently a researcher at the Urban Institute concentrating on employment issues among black men, but he also had been a state official, Capitol Hill aide and District of Columbia Medicaid director, among other posts.
He drew national headlines in 2001 when during John Ashcroft's confirmation hearings to become U.S. attorney general, he said Ashcroft had asked him in 1985 about his sexual orientation during a job interview. Offner had been single at that time. Ashcroft had said that he had never considered sexual orientation during hiring decisions and would not do so as attorney general.
Offner became a Wisconsin state legislator in 1975 and he quickly gained a reputation as an expert in healthcare and insurance. After a stint as deputy director of the Ohio Department of Health, he became a senior legislative aide for Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.).
In 1995, he accepted an offer from then-Washington Mayor Marion Barry to become the district's commissioner of healthcare finance. Offner soon discovered that because of computer problems about 25,000 people who should have been removed from Washington's Medicaid rolls were allowed to stay on, costing the district at least $34 million during a three-year period. During his tenure as the Medicaid director for the district, spending increases on the program slowed to about 3% annually from about 13%.
After leaving government, Offner was a research scholar at Georgetown Univer-sity's Institute of Health Care Research and Policy and then at the Urban Institute. His articles on healthcare, welfare and other social policies were often published in national journals. He is survived by his wife, Mary Collins Offner, and a daughter, Mary Shu Yu Offner.