Transparency and trust for Covered California

California Healthline’s Think Tank asked us for our comment on an AP article on transparency at Covered California, and pending legislation, SB332, on the subject.

We support the bill, but we went further about how to evaluate these issues with appropriate context and nuance. Here’s a selection from our response:

…The ability of Covered California to selectively contract with health plans also means it needs some ability to negotiate behind closed doors, in order to get the best outcome for consumers. This is not uncommon in other state programs that negotiate with plans, from CalPERS to Healthy Families. The key is the transparency of process and accountability of results. The AP comparison of exchanges in other states in not an apples-to-apples comparison. After all, if many of the other exchanges are simply listing insurance products like a phone book, there’s no negotiation to keep private in the first place.

That said, the AP review is a welcome opportunity to see how California can and should do better, especially on such core values as transparency and accountability. For example, there’s less rationale for the ability of the exchange to cloak in secrecy vendor contracts, with the consultants who are conducting key elements of Covered California’s work. In fact, Covered California has for some time waived its ability to keep contracts private. It is the appropriate role of the Legislature to set those parameters for the future.

There’s a balance, but consumer advocates prefer to err on the side of transparency and the accountability that comes with that. We want individuals, families, and small employers to have trust in Covered California, that they finally have someone on their side when selecting and securing health insurance. Transparency helps build the trust that is essential for the success of Covered California.

For these reasons, Health Access California supports SB 332 to further increase transparency in Covered California, while facilitating its important ability to get the best deal possible for the California consumer.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.