Exchange director Peter Lee tells CMA physicians universal health care is the 'right thing to do'

April 18, 2013
Area(s) of Interest: Access to Care Advocacy 

Earlier this week, Peter Lee, the executive director of Covered California, California’s health benefits exchange, spoke to more than 400 physicians, residents and medical students in attendance at the California Medical Association's 39th annual Legislative Leadership Conference, held April 16 in Sacramento.

Lee urged physicians to look broadly at the good the program will do for California and for the nation, rather than getting “trapped” in the day-to-day problems that might arise in the beginning. Effective January 1, 2014, more than 4 million previously uninsured individuals will be eligible for health coverage, either through the exchange or through the expanded Medi-Cal program.

“Think of January 2014 as a starting point,” said Lee. “When we look back 50 years to [the passage of] Medicare, we don’t look at the first months or at enrollment issues of that time [instead] we say, ‘this was the right thing to do.’ ”

Doing the right thing for consumers is what is currently occupying Lee and the 170 employees of the exchange. “We are in the process of building a user friendly website, so consumers can view health plans and enroll online.” The exchange is also in the process of hiring 1,000 health guides housed in call centers around the state to help people enroll. Lee said the guides will be available by phone and are expected to ease the problems for consumers by helping them understand and choose health plans.

Because California is one of the most diverse states in the nation, the exchange will also communicate information about Covered California through many channels, Lee said. According to Lee, Covered California will partner with companies like NASCAR and Univision to advertise and let eligible populations know about the coverage and where to get it. “Over the next two years we will spend $300 million (from a federal grant) to educate consumers and get them enrolled.”

With the influx of new patients, said Lee, the exchange is also looking for physicians to get involved as well. “Physicians are our most trusted partners,” he said. Physicians can help their patients understand the importance of enrolling and taking advantage of the opportunity to be covered by health insurance. “We will be sending California physicians information and tools to help you engage patients in the process as well.”

Knowing the broad group of ethnicities that must be reached, Lee said, “we have designed our health plans to be clinically, culturally and geographically sensitive for the audiences we must reach.” The exchange has also established universal benefit design standards so that consumers can compare, “apples to apples” and can understand what the costs will be. “We are trying to make this easy.”

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