Senate Bill To Alter Exchange Board Gets Altered, Passes Committee

The Senate Committee on Health this week passed a measure aimed at broadening the diversity of Covered California’s board of directors.

One week after being shelved and almost rejected in a previous Senate health hearing, a revised version of SB 972 by Sen. Norma Torres (D-Pomona) was resurrected Wednesday.

The new bill drops a requirement to expand the board from five to seven members, but keeps the addition of four areas of expertise for board-member qualifications — including experience in enrollment assistance with priority given to those with cultural and linguistic competency.

“The primary objective of my bill is to diversify the expertise of Covered California’s board of directors,” Torres said. “There is plenty of empirical evidence proving that diversity brings strength to a board.”

That can be accomplished by broadening the expertise requirements, Torres said.

“I feel very strongly that many of the problems we experienced during the rollout [of the exchange’s first open enrollment period] wouldn’t have occurred if the board of directors had been capable of providing better oversight of CalHEERS (the exchange’s online system) and the marketing and outreach plan to consumers, particularly Latino consumers,” Torres said. “Although Covered California’s executive staff is responsible for managing and implementing these projects, it was the board [members] who signed off on these contracts.”

The bill was prompted by a series of missteps by Covered California that contributed to low Latino enrollment numbers during the first half of the initial enrollment period. Among the concerns: The exchange did not have Spanish-language registration online for the first three months of open enrollment; it didn’t have enough Spanish-speaking call center workers; and the initial response to low Latino enrollment was to buy more advertising, according to Torres.

All of those miscues could be tied, at least in part, to a lack of diversity on the board, along with unfamiliarity with marketing concepts and a lack of understanding about information technology, Torres said.

“I feel that if the board had more expertise with information technology, customer service, marketing and Latino outreach,” Torres said, “those agreements and the oversight of them, would have played out much differently.”

In addition to cultural competency, there were other three areas of expertise added to the qualifications list:

  • Marketing of health insurance products;
  • Information technology system management; and
  • Management information systems experience, which entails managing and utilizing systems to generate information.

At Wednesday’s Senate Health hearing, no testimony was given, since it had been fully presented the week before, on April 23.

At the initial presentation, no committee members seemed to support the bill, and there was a bitter exchange of words over the bill between Torres and Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), chair of Senate Health.

After a week of revisions, however, the bill was approved on a 6-1 vote — including an “aye” vote from Hernandez.

“I hope that the discussion around this bill will help guide decisions regarding future appointments so that we can have additional expertise on the board that is better prepared to make these decisions,” Torres said.

The bill now heads to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

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