Exchange Accelerating Toward Deadline

by David Gorn

TOPIC ALERT:

At yesterday's meeting of the Covered California health benefit exchange board, exchange officials laid out an aggressive agenda that is seemingly coming together all at once.

Highlights of the meeting included:

Announcement of Fresno facility. Exchange officials said they signed a lease in Fresno for one of three central call centers, to handle eligibility and enrollment questions from Californians who might be interested in exchange coverage.

The other two sites, in Concord (Contra Costa County) and Rancho Cordova (Sacramento County), "are up and running," according to Carene Carolan, deputy director of the service center at Covered California. Staff members are undergoing training now and will start taking live calls Monday.

• Bridge proposal submission. "Earlier this week [on Tuesday], we sent our bridge proposal to HHS," said Peter Lee, Covered California's executive director. "That's the proposal to allow Medi-Cal patients participating in Covered California to transition and stay in the program."

Finalizing that proposal was a big step, Lee said. "It's now in HHS' hands," he said.

Insurance agent registration. Covered California initiated registration this week to start certifying licensed insurance agents.

"We had a lot of demand on the first day," Carolan said. "We provided the ability for insurance agents to register, and it was very successful. In fact, we've had almost 5,000 agents registered already." Those agents will sell Covered California insurance products starting Oct. 1, Carolan said.

Web interface. The CalHEERS computer system that will facilitate enrollment in the exchange will be functioning on time, said Karen Ruiz, project director for CalHEERS at the exchange. "We are on track," she said, "to be ready Oct. 1."

That's when consumers will be able to figure out eligibility and enroll for Covered California online, though coverage wouldn't start till Jan. 1. The computer system will help enrollment in other ways, Lee said. "We talk a lot about having the best possible consumer experience," Lee said. "But it's not just the website; it's an issue of human beings with computer tools, and web support."

• Provider education grants. Covered California has about $8 million in grant funding to help bring providers up to speed on all the options in exchange coverage. Some of that money was recently awarded to four groups, according to Sarah Soto-Taylor, deputy director of community relations for the exchange.

"The provider education grant program goes from the beginning of September to the end of December 2014," Soto-Taylor said. "We awarded $3.1 million to four organizations."

The four groups receiving grant money: California Medical Association Foundation, the California Academy of Family Physicians, the California Society of Health-System Pharmacists and the National Council of Asian Pacific Islander Physicians.

Ad campaign. Marketing testing starts in two weeks for the statewide advertising campaign. The full-scale Covered California brand awareness campaign begins one month later, on Oct. 1.  


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