SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – The director of Covered California announced Thursday that he will step down early next year, prompting a nationwide search for a new leader in the states largest health insurance market -United.
Peter Lee was the only executive director of Covered California in nine years of existence, launching the market in 2012 at a time when the Affordable Care Act was a polarizing force in US politics.
During his tenure, Covered California dramatically increased the number of people eligible for discounts on their monthly health insurance premiums. A record 1.6 million people in the state with a population of around 40 million people now purchase their health insurance through Covered California. This helped reduce the state’s uninsurance rate to 7.7% in 2019, from 18.5% in 2010, according to the US Census Bureau.
Lee, 62, said the recent deaths of his mother and uncle made him pause and think about what he wanted to do with the next phase of his life. He has no other job in sight.
âThe California Covered has been in many ways the beacon for showing how the Affordable Care Act can work,â Lee told The Associated Press in an interview. “The organization is in great shape and I want to watch something new.”
Health insurance markets are a key part of federal affordable care law, the health care law of former President Barack Obama.
The market is for people who do not have – or cannot get – health insurance through their jobs and earn too much money to qualify for government-funded health care. It was designed to make it easier for these people to obtain health insurance and offers discounts to certain people with incomes below a certain income level.
Most states have chosen to let the federal government manage their markets for them. But California is one of 15 states that runs its own market. Lee has been the public face of the California market for the past decade, traveling statewide promoting it with the fervor of an evangelist.
He insisted on negotiating with health insurance companies on pricing and standardizing benefits between plans so consumers can more easily compare plans when deciding which one to buy.
“He is ready to negotiate and say no to insurers that were not delivering value and hold plans accountable for higher standards of quality and fairness,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California , a consumer advocacy group. “I think it’s a testament to his work that we’ve had less than a 2% average increase in premiums over the past three years.”
When Republican President Donald Trump was in power, the federal government cut its marketing budget for the federal market. But Lee spent about $ 100 million a year – money from small fees assessed on bonuses – on marketing in California, including TV and radio ads in multiple languages ââand paying social media influencers to encourage people to purchase health insurance.
“He definitely made his mark by arguing that health insurance doesn’t necessarily sell itself, that it has to be marketed like any other product,” said Larry Levitt, executive vice president health policy from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit group focused on health issues.
Dr Mark Ghaly, California secretary of health and human services and chairman of the board of Covered California, said the agency will launch a nationwide search for Lee’s replacement.
âToday, Covered California is an indispensable part of our state’s effort toward universal coverage and is uniquely positioned to continue its mission of service and innovation as a state and national leader,â said Ghaly.
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