New Name, Developments for California's Health Benefit Exchange
By Linda Leu
The California Health Benefit Exchange Board, charged with retooling California's healthcare system to comply with parameters for state healthcare exchanges set forth in the federal Affordable Care Act, met on Tuesday in Sacramento to consider a number of weighty policy issues.
The Board heard updates on implementation of California Health Eligibility, Enrollment and Retention System (CalHEERs) and the Service Center Options last heard at the September meeting of the Board. The CalHEERs IT build is well underway, with 71% of 717 requirements completed. The Exchange staff is on track to continue system design through April 2013, followed by system testing, and federal review in December of 2013.
In reference to Service Center Options, stakeholders continued to emphasize the importance of "warm hand-offs" in the transition process between the existing and new service structure to ensure that consumers don't fall between the cracks of different agencies and assisters.
Staff also reported that they would be recommending that the Exchange apply for a Level 2 Exchange Establishment grant from the federal government for funding the Exchange through the first year of operation. The grant application as well as the marketing and outreach plan will be released in early November for stakeholder comment.
Additionally, staff presented the Board meeting schedule for 2013:
- January 17 - Los Angeles
- February 21
- March 21
- April 25 - Inland Empire
- May 23
- June 20
- July 25 (Tentative)
- August 22
- September 19
- October 24 (Bay Area)
- November 28
- December 19 (Tentative)
The Board also engaged in lengthy discussion on Qualified Health Plans. Advocates expressed a number of concerns with the Qualified Health Plan Solicitation that was released earlier this month, including violation of existing California law (including state law requiring coverage for domestic partners and AB1083 related to the small business exchange), and asked that the Board delay approving regulations on QHP until they could provide further input. The Board agreed to defer action on this item until the November 14 meeting and to take additional comments until Friday. The staff did share that they have received 33 letters of intent in response to their initial solicitation, and are encouraged that the large number of insurers interested in participating in the Exchange will mean that they will be able to truly be an active purchaser and drive delivery system reform.
In relation to the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), staff recommended a policy of allowing employers to select the tier or level of coverage, but to allow employees to choose between plans within that tier. Advocates expressed disappointment that choice for employees was limited, however were encouraged that staff wanted to expand choice as early as mid-2014. The Board approved the staff recommendation unanimously.
The most interesting issue before the Board however, was approval of the Exchange's new name and logo. The process of developing the name and logo has been several months in the making, and contenders have undergone intensive discussion and focus group testing. The Board approved the Exchange's new name - "Covered California" - and a new logo. The tagline that will accompany the name is going to undergo further testing.
Finally, the board heard a panel presentation on User Experience. A variety of panelists discussed various aspect of the customer experience - including efficiency, effectiveness, and satisfaction. The Exchange will be faced with the challenge of how to structure the presentation of choices and also offer all the tools that consumers will need in order to determine which plans best meet their needs and how much they the can expect to pay. Very salient points were made by Board member Paul Fearer about considering the target audience, the accessibility of language used, and the importance of getting feedback from consumers, as well as assisters, to continually improve.
The next meeting of the Covered California Board will be held on November 14th.
Linda Leu is a health care policy analyst for Health Access California, a statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition of over 200 groups.