Covered California is “off to a very good start,” she tells UC employees.
By Alec Rosenberg
It’s a historic time for health care in America. And California is helping lead the reforms, said Diana Dooley, state secretary of Health and Human Services.
California’s health insurance exchange launched Oct. 1. The online marketplace allows individuals, families and small businesses to compare policies and buy insurance.
The exchange was created as part of the federal Affordable Care Act, and is expected to increase access to health care, along with an expansion of Medicaid coverage to millions of low-income Americans. About 48 million Americans are uninsured, including more than 7 million Californians.
The state marketplace, called Covered California, in the first week received about 1 million unique visits to its website – second highest in the nation – along with 59,000 phone calls and more than 16,000 completed applications for health insurance.
“We’re certainly off to a very good start,” Dooley told UC Office of the President employees Oct. 8 at a talk in Oakland hosted by UC Health. “As California goes, so goes the nation.”
Exchange preparations have been complicated and fast paced. For example, only a few contractors were willing to bid on the California exchange’s IT contract, partly because of the compressed timeline: 15 months for a project that typically would take five years, Dooley said.
While there have been a few glitches, “it’s up, and it’s working,” said Dooley, who chairs Covered California.
Call waiting times also have improved – dropping from as long as 40 minutes during the first day to less than four minutes by the fourth day. The goal is 30 seconds, Dooley said.
Despite the current federal government shutdown, the Affordable Care Act is helping bring about a “culture of coverage,” Dooley said. The act requires nearly every American to have health insurance by Jan. 1 or pay a fine. Eligible low-income residents can receive free or low-cost care through Medicaid, while moderate-income individuals and families using an exchange can receive financial assistance on a sliding scale. Californians using the exchange need to sign up by Dec. 15 to meet the Jan. 1 deadline.
The Affordable Care Act is a three-legged stool, Dooley said. One leg is expanded coverage. The other two legs also are important: improving how care is delivered and financed, and moving to a model that emphasizes prevention and wellness. To succeed, California will need to move from a fee-for-service model to a system of coordinated care that includes a focus on containing costs, she said. It also involves expanding efforts to make Californians healthier.
Dooley formed a task force, Let’s Get Healthy California, whose goal is to have California be the nation’s healthiest state by 2022.
“You’ve got to have some big goals or you don’t achieve very much,” Dooley said.
Dooley also discussed the issue of investment in medical education, saying it needs to be addressed to help fill workforce shortages. She noted UC’s role in training health care professionals. UC Health has the nation’s largest health sciences instructional program, enrolling more than 14,000 students with 17 professional schools on seven campuses.
Dr. John Stobo, UC senior vice president for health sciences and services, praised Dooley as a champion for innovation, transparency and for reforming the health care delivery system.
“She is really committed to addressing the health needs of underserved populations,” Stobo said. “It resonates with UC Health’s mission as a public trust.”