Exchange Board Handles New Move Quietly

During the most recent board meeting of the California Health Benefit Exchange, board members gingerly approached the last item on the agenda — would the board stick its toe in political waters?

“I don’t know that it’s the board’s place to do this,” board member Paul Fearer offered at one point. Chair Diana Dooley, secretary of the state HHS agency, announced right at the start of the meeting she would abstain from legislative issues.

But clearly the board felt it was the board’s place to get involved in legislative waters — past the toes and ankle and maybe up to the knee — as it voted 3-0 on several motions to involve the exchange board’s input and opinion on half a dozen legislative bills. 

Board member Robert Ross was absent from the five-member board meeting.

At one point, as the rhetoric got a little heated and after board member Susan Kennedy strongly questioned the worth of one particular legislative bill, it was John Ramey’s turn to speak. He’s executive director of the Local Health Plans of California, and he’s a gentlemanly guy who often wears a hat.

Someone on the board asked him where his hat was. “I left it back on my chair,” Ramey said. “But I may need a helmet, not a hat, given the comments today.”

Since that meeting, board members have declined to comment (although Kim Belshe did respond, but is currently on vacation). But the same is true for many of the authors of the bills in question; they don’t want to discuss it, either.

“It’s a radioactive issue,” Micah Weinberg of the Bay Area Council said. “They’re all wanting to be careful about it. The exchange board hasn’t done this before, so I think no one knows exactly what will happen with this.”

That uncertainty may apply to the board members themselves, too, Weinberg said. “Personally, I don’t think anyone went into the meeting knowing what would happen. They just raised the issue, and then things just developed.”

The next board meeting is at the end of August. Legislators return from recess on Aug. 15. All the bills the exchange board wants to influence are still in committee.

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