Lots To Do With Less Than Two Years To Go

by David Gorn

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It is an eventful month for the California Health Benefit Exchange board.

Tomorrow, it releases its final solicitation for technology to help run the exchange. Proposals are due at the end of this month for the communication, outreach, assisters and health plan management components of the exchange.

Meanwhile, Executive Director Peter Lee said at yesterday's board meeting, the exchange has continued to hire new personnel and is now negotiating for office space to lease in Sacramento to accommodate all of those new hires.

The exchange board yesterday also scheduled an additional January board meeting for next week (on Jan. 26) to finalize comments on the essential health benefits listed in last month's CMS bulletin.

Also next week, Lee said, the exchange staff plans to release the SHOP (Small-Employer Health Option Program) enrollment estimates on Jan. 26.

Time is short, Lee said.

"We have some major issues before the Health Benefit Exchange board. ... This is a very fast time frame," Lee said. "We are all operating under a tight time frame."

Finding a vendor to handle the IT system is a big one, he said. Close behind that is hiring an organization to handle communication and outreach.

"It's a statewide marketing strategy to reduce the uninsured, helping people get and retain coverage. And also to provide marketing and communication support for the exchange," he said. "What's the brand? And how do we message what we're doing?"

That organization would also coordinate "an assisters strategy," he said, that reaches out to health care brokers and agents.

The exchange is also soliciting help on health plan management and delivery. "That's developing the standards and the process for certification and measuring performance and quality in qualified health plans," Lee said.

All those proposals -- for communications and for health plan management -- are due at the end of January. Work on the programs is scheduled to start March 1.

When you realize that the exchange is supposed to be operational by July of next year -- giving the exchange six months to work out the bugs, so that it can go live on Jan. 1, 2014 -- that doesn't leave much time to develop all of the systems that will make up the exchange, Lee said.

California has received a federal Level 1 planning grant to pay for all of that. The state still needs to apply by June for its Level 2 grant, to be used more for implementation purposes.


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