Covered California Board Update, on Quality Ratings, Service Centers, Assister Background Check, and More…

Covered California’s Board of Directors met Thursday in Sacramento to continue their work toward opening its doors for enrollment in 284 days.
One important decision the Board made relates to a controversial proposal staff made at last month’s meeting regarding background checks. Covered California, in its work to enroll people into health insurance, will inevitably handle private information, including the tax information used to help determine eligibility for subsidies.  In an effort to be diligent in protecting privacy, the Board suggested a very strict policy for background checks for personnel. Personnel will include Covered California employees, prospective employees, contractors, subcontractors, volunteers, and vendors – including assisters.  Fingerprint-based criminal background checks will be required for all of these individuals, and individuals who may already perform similar functions and have already passed the background checks will not be exempt.  The approved policy includes a broad criteria for offenses that could disqualify individuals from working with Covered California.
Advocates expressed concerns over, and interest in continuing to work with the staff around the issue of disqualifying offenses, and would hope that Covered California will narrow their definition of all crimes of “moral turpitude” Many communities that are negatively impacted by health disparities have also been disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system.  Having an overly broad list of disqualifiers, without taking into account whether an infraction was relevant or possible rehabilitation, may exclude individuals who are trusted members of these communities to be disqualified from being assisters or deterred from applying.
The Board and staff seemed open to considering a policy for appeals as well as some mitigating factors.  Additionally, the Board reversed course on the previous staff proposal that would require community organizations or other contracting entities to pay for these background checks.  Covered California has decided to pay for fingerprinting in the first year of operations to ensure that cost is not a barrier to getting trusted community organizations and individuals to participate in helping as many eligible individuals to apply for coverage as possible.  
The Board also heard a report on the progress of the Service Centers. Covered California has finalized a contract with Contra Costa County to serve as a county based service center.  The City of Martinez will house a 200 person call center to help people sign up for coverage.  Additionally, the County Welfare Directors Association reports that the counties are making progress in working with Covered California in developing customer service protocols related to warm transfers. This refers to the process by which someone who is eligible for Medi-Cal but calls Covered California to sign up for coverage is transferred to the appropriate place and vice versa.
Additionally the Board approved some regulations that were necessary for the staff to move forward with the contracting process with Qualified Health Plans.  Plans must submit bids by April 2nd, and from there on, Covered California will begin its’ active purchasing responsibilities – negotiating with plans in order to get the best prices on the best plans for consumers.
The last item of business was a panel discussion on health disparities.  Covered California has asserted as part of its mission, vision, and values to use its capacity as a driver of health care system change to reduce health disparities and work toward health equity.  One strategy it is employing toward this end is targeted marketing and outreach to ensure that special care is taken to bring in those who are traditionally left out of care.  Experts representing communities of color, people with disabilities, the mental health community, and the LGBTQ community each presented specific suggestions for Covered California to be more inclusive of and culturally sensitive to the needs of their communities.
The next Covered California Board Meeting will be held on April 23 in Sacramento.  The Plan Management and Design Review Stakeholder Group will meet on April 16, and the Covered California staff and Board will be hosting the first of their community Town Halls on April 25th in the Inland Empire, details to follow.
Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.