Latino Issues at Exchange Prompt Bill Proposing Change in Board Composition

A state Senate bill introduced yesterday would increase the number of Covered California health benefit exchange board members from five to seven and would increase the number of expertise categories for those board members.

SB 972 by Sen. Norma Torres (D-Pomona) was prompted, in part, by low numbers of Latino enrollees in the exchange, and by exchange oversights that were contributing factors to those low numbers.

For instance, the exchange had no Spanish-language application form online until January, and there were less than 10% Spanish-speakers at the three state call centers.

Those kinds of mistakes could have a negative effect on Latino enrollment, according to Gilbert Ojeda, director of the California Program on Access to Care at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

“Several mistakes were made and the question is whether you can fix that kind of mistake at this point,” Ojeda said. “The concern is whether this is a missed opportunity or if it’s just a delay. It feels a lot like a missed opportunity.”

Torres made it clear that she’s not singling out board members, but she would like the board and staff to be more diverse.

“My bill does not call for a new board of directors,” Torres said. “It calls for making changes to the composition of the board to better address the needs of consumers.”

Torres wants to expand the board from five to seven members “to increase oversight of staff and contractors,” she said.

The expertise of the board would expand in four areas, she said: “Marketing of health insurance products, information technology system management, management information systems and customer service delivery research and best practices,” Torres said.

Those issues are not Latino-centric, she said, they simply address a problem she sees in the organization.

“I am trying to help Covered California evolve so it is capable of overcoming its challenges,” Torres said. “Helping to get more experts on the board with experience solving the problems the organization is currently facing is a simple, common-sense solution and in the best interest of consumers.” 

The idea is straightforward, Torres said: “The board’s composition should reflect the needs of its consumers,” she said. “Although staff has taken the lead on addressing the current problems, the question is: Who has the expertise to oversee the work of Covered California’s staff and contractors when it comes to issues pertaining to delivery of customer service, marketing, and IT and information systems management?”

“It’s a message bill, as well as a tangible bill,” Ojeda said. “It’s an expression that something has to change.”

The bill lists bipartisan support from 12 co-authors in the Senate.

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