California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Calif. Health Exchange Board OKs Sale of Stand-Alone Vision Plans

On Tuesday, the California Health Benefit Exchange board voted 5-0 to approve policy changes that will allow the sale of stand-alone vision plans to individual customers in the exchange, the Sacramento Bee reports (Kasler, Sacramento Bee, 10/31).

About the Exchange

The federal health reform law requires states to launch online insurance marketplaces by 2014. The California Health Benefit Exchange primarily will serve individuals and small businesses.

About 4.4 million Californians are expected to use the exchange by the end of 2016. Officials plan to open registration for the exchange in October 2013.

Background on Sale of Vision Plans

In August, the exchange board voted to allow stand-alone vision plans to be sold to small businesses. However, it decided not to allow the plans to be sold to individual customers because permitting an individual to purchase eye care insurance from a separate company would necessitate splitting subsidies between the individual's main insurance and vision coverage.

Exchange staffers said that the agency decided that the task of splitting subsidies was too difficult to manage in the first year of operating the exchange.

After the board's decision, Vision Service Plan of Rancho Cordova announced it might relocate headquarters to another state if it does not have access to individual customers in the exchange.

Last month, the exchange board said it would revisit the decision.

VSP said it would delay hiring workers until the board comes to a final decision.

Meanwhile, another eye care insurer, Superior Vision Services, filed a protest this month against the exchange board's original decision.

In a letter to the exchange board, Rick Corbett -- CEO of Superior Vision Services -- wrote that it is a mistake not to allow the plans to be sold to individual customers. He wrote, "Nearly 60 million people are covered by stand-alone plans throughout the country."

Details of the Changes

In a memo sent to the board on Friday, exchange staffers proposed allowing the sale of stand-alone vision plans to adults.

They also recommended allowing the sale of such plans for children, but they said that the agency first needs to clarify how certain provisions in the health reform law would affect the process (California Healthline, 10/29).

VSP Reaction

Following the vote, VSP released a statement saying the policy change "allows Californians to continue to have direct access to independent eye care providers" (VSP release, 10/30).

Rob Lynch, CEO of VSP, told the Bee within minutes of Tuesday's decision that the company now plans to hire 400 workers in the region (Sacramento Bee, 10/31).

Steinberg Reaction

Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) commended the board's decision. In a news release, he said, "It makes good policy sense and good business sense to include stand-alone vision plans."

He added, "It broadens access for consumers by ensuring more options, while allowing the Exchange to take advantage of California-based expertise from companies like [Vision Service Plan] in Rancho Cordova" (Steinberg release, 10/30).

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