Consumer Advocates Release Key Goals for New Office of Health Care Affordability

The full list of principles can be found here, ahead of first meeting of the Board on Tuesday

SACRAMENTO, CA – Today, health consumer advocates are releasing their key goals and principles for the California Office of Health Care Affordability, a new state agency which will have its first board meeting on Tuesday, March 21st. This Office, created in the 2022 California state budget, is the most comprehensive effort yet to control health care costs in the state, and perhaps the nation. The Office will set new industry targets for cost growth, and eventually enforce those targets—with fines commensurate with the amount overcharged. The potential penalties are one of many features that sets the California Office apart from similar health cost target-setting commissions in nine other states, where their authority and focus are more limited.

In releasing these goals and principles, Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition and an early and leading proponent of creating the Office, acknowledges the promise of this new Office, and the pitfalls it may face.

“This new Office was always meant not just to track the high costs of health care, but to take tangible action to provide real relief to California health consumers from ever-increasing health costs. The Office will set a cost target for the industry as a whole while also working to control the costs consumers pay in premiums, deductibles, and copays,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California. “The Office should focus on helping the industry transform itself to lower costs, while also improving health outcomes and reducing health disparities. By changing the misaligned incentives in our system, we can get the best value for our health care dollar.”

“The Office has great leadership at the staff and board level, but it remains to be seen if it will have the information, the focus, and the political support and will to withstand industry pushback. Consumer advocates will stand against any attempt to defang and minimize the impact of the Office, as key decisions are made about the process of setting the target, including even what data to include,” said Wright. “These principles show the promise of this new Office, but also seek to seek to have it avoid potential pitfalls by incorporating key considerations early in the implementation of this effort.”

The principles should be used to guide advocacy on behalf of consumers, and we urge the Office take them as goals for its work. While there may be debates on specifics and substantive details, these principles reflect Health Access’ prevailing philosophy. According to these goals and principles, the Office should:

  1. Slow unchecked health care cost growth to benefit Californians and California as a whole.
  2. Provide real relief to consumers from ever-increasing health care costs.
  3. Advance health equity to serve California’s values and the specific needs of our diverse communities.
  4. Prioritize ongoing improvements in quality, access, and equity alongside cost.
  5. Transform our health system to disrupt misaligned payment incentives that work against improving health and lowering costs.
  6. Provide the public and policymakers with an “all in” comprehensive view of our health system.
  7. Track trends and ensure transparency translates to action.
  8. Create meaningful accountability for health care costs while improving equity and outcomes, through partnership and penalties.
  9. Center California consumers’ experience and voice in all deliberations and decisions.

The full detailed description of these goals and principles can be found here.

The board of the Office of Health Care Affordability, housed at the Department of Health Care Access and Information, will meet this Tuesday, March 21st, with monthly meetings expected.