Insurance Marketplace Taking Shape: Will It Meet Needs of Latinos?

(Adrian Clark: Flickr)

(Adrian Clark: Flickr)

It’s off to the races now.

With the health overhaul (mostly) upheld by the Supreme Court, the January 1, 2014 deadline for the rollout of the Affordable Care Act is looming — in particular for the board of the Health Benefit Exchange. That’s the group tasked with developing an online marketplace where Californians will be able to buy health insurance. Yesterday, KQED’s Mina Kim attended the board’s first meeting since the ACA was upheld. Today I went to a meeting of the Latino Coalition for a Health California. It was sort of a point-counterpoint experience.

First, from Mina Kim. As she detailed on The California Report:

Hundreds of people packed the auditorium in Oakland yesterday where the Board meeting was held. At issue for many people was that health plans have a standard format so that it’s easy for consumers to compare costs and benefits.

Betsy Imholz, with the advocacy group Consumers Union, told Kim that this is a critical time for the exchange. “It’s where the rubber meets the road … figuring out what plans will be part of the exchange.”

Some health plan representatives warned against putting too many requirements on insurers — which could make plans expensive. To make his point, Charles Bacchi with the California Association of Health Plans held up the Exchange’s 260- page document of recommendations.

“This is really a big document!” he said, to laughter from the audience.

The board has just fifteen months to get its market place up and running. The Health Exchange Board’s goal is to have an operable exchange by October 2013 — so Californians can buy insurance and be ready for the January 1, 2014 roll out. Board member Paul Fearer told Kim, “It’s a lot of work, but we’ve got a lot of passionate people a great staff and a really good board, so that gives us a great chance.”

Today, members of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC) struck a more sobering note at its scheduled meeting. While the January 2014 deadline is looming, LCHC Board Director Gil Ojeda worries the Exchange planning process is nonetheless moving too quickly. “When you move a freight train at 90 miles an hour, some things are going to get put aside,” he told me, a reference to interim deadlines to have the essential health benefits determined that plans must meet. “We’re not convinced this can all be hashed out in the next 45 days.” He wondered why plans must be determined by September. “Why not October, or November?” he mused.

Many at the meeting were also concerned that the state lacks the primary care providers it will need to absorb the estimated 3 million Californians who will be newly insured. “I can tell you right now,” Ojeda said. “We don’t have a chance of achieving the numbers (of primary care providers) we need by 2014.”

The board of the California Health Benefit Exchange meets monthly — its next meeting is August 23. Stay tuned. The train is moving fast, as Ojeda noted.

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