About 150 people crammed an auditorium in Sacramento to be part of history: The California Health Benefits Exchange board met for the first time — the initial big step toward implementing the first reform-prompted insurance exchange in the nation.
“If we succeed, we will set the health care reform agenda for the rest of the nation,” board member Susan Kennedy said. “If we fail, we will precipitate the downfall of it nationally. And we are fully committed to seeing it succeed.”
The first day of the board was a busy one.
- Diana Dooley, Secretary of Health and Human Services in California, was elected interim chair of the exchange board.
- Kim BelshÃ©, former HHS secretary, was elected as the first member of a two-member subcommittee charged with overseeing the application for a federal establishment grant, a crucial piece of funding for setting up the exchange.
- In closed session, the board decided on an interim administrative director: Pat Powers, who is now president of the nonprofit Center for Health Improvement.
- Also in closed session, the board appointed a search and recruitment committee to find an executive director.
- The board will meet at least twice in May, Dooley said, perhaps joined in the next meeting by a yet-to-be-named fifth board member.
“This has been a long time coming,” Dooley said. “We’re delighted to get this started. It will be a lot of work, but we’re interested in being not just the pace car here, but the lead car.”
The work of the exchange, Dooley said, will go a long way toward healing the state’s fragmented health care system. “Right now, we donât have a health care system in California. We have a lot of pieces of a health care system. What we have now is an illness-treatment system, and what we need is a health system.”
BelshÃ© said the board is mindful of the recent state budget cuts, which included $6 billion in health-related reductions, as well as the strain on federal budgets. She said she’s grateful to be able move forward on the exchange.
“I’m very eager to move from policy development to policy implementation,” BelshÃ© said. “I am hoping that we are sobered by today’s fiscal climate, both here and nationally, but not stymied by it.”
The board’s process for setting up the two-person subcommittee to oversee the federal grant application produced a couple of funny moments.
Belshe volunteered. Board members Kennedy and Paul Fearer were asked if either of them could participate, but both declined because of time constraints. Dooley ventured that she might try to do it, but everyone laughed because Dooley’s time is extremely short.
BelshÃ© had an idea:
“You know, there is a fifth person coming onto the board,” she said with a smile. “That could be the price you pay…”
Dooley added in: “It’s like that old saying — ‘You have to show up, or you get a job.’ “
The board decided to leave that second subcommittee member position open till the next meeting, scheduled for May 11. The Senate rules committee is expected to choose the final member of the board next week.