Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorial: Covered California’s board should resist Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones’ call for a delay

Republicans have been gloating since President Barack Obama botched the rollout of the federal health exchange website and then offered states the option of extending for a year policies that don’t comply with the act.

Not surprisingly, Republicans are seizing the opportunity to raise money for the 2014 election. More surprising is that California’s insurance commissioner, Dave Jones, a Democrat, is using the act as a fundraising vehicle, charging donors up to $5,000 in San Francisco last Friday for an “intimate discussion regarding California’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act.”

In what is shaping up as a showdown with California’s health exchange, Jones is undermining the act by urging Covered California to take up Obama’s suggestion to extend for a year canceled policies that don’t comply with the Affordable Care Act. That places Jones in unlikely company. Several states, such as Texas, which have refused to set up state exchanges, are opting for the delay.

The Covered California board meets Thursday and should resist Jones’ call. Instead, the board should follow the lead of other states such as Massachusetts, Minnesota, Vermont and Washington, which plan to stay the course.

“In the interest of keeping the consumer protections we have enacted and ensuring that we keep health insurance costs down for all consumers, we are staying the course,” Washington’s insurance commissioner said the day of the president’s announcement. That should be California’s stance.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown would not say how the board might vote. But he said at a press event that Covered California will “respond to the cancellation issue” while ensuring the exchange would not be undermined.

A one-year extension on noncompliant policies might make sense in the states that depend on the federal exchange, which is not fully functioning, but not in states with their own working exchanges.

Most of the 17 state exchanges, including Covered California, are moving forward with enrollments. A one-year delay would weaken the risk pool. Over the weekend, Covered California held health insurance fairs at Grant High School in the Del Paso Heights neighborhood, the downtown Sacramento Library, the Florin Road business center and St. Paul Baptist Church in Oak Park. The state is on track to meet enrollment targets for 2014.

California is the largest market with a state exchange, so what California does matters. Resurrecting canceled health insurance plans for another year could threaten the financial stability of Covered California – and the entire Affordable Care Act.

Certainly, California should work with people who have received cancellation notices. Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee estimates that a third of the 900,000 policyholders who received cancellation notices could get subsidies. For many of the others, premium costs in the exchange will go down or stay the same. For some, premium costs will go up. But they also should consider their out-of-pocket costs, as the website allows people to do. Co-payments for visiting a doctor or getting prescription will go down for many people entering the California exchange.

Ignore the likes of state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, who called the Affordable Care Act and Covered California the “greatest domestic failure in the history of America.” Really? Greater than slavery or segregation? California should not take steps that would return to the old days of insurer discrimination, which left millions of people uninsured.

Covered California’s board should avoid a one-year delay. It should help people who have received cancellations. And the state must do everything that it can to help Californians enroll in quality health insurance.