SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – The director of Covered California said Thursday he would step down early next year, prompting a national search for a new leader in the country’s largest public health insurance market.
Peter Lee was the only executive director of Covered California in its nine-year history, 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 high of 1.6 million people in the state with a population of approximately 40 million people are now getting their health insurance through Covered California. This helped bring the state’s uninsured rate down from 18.5% in 2010 to 7.7% in 2019, according to the US Census Bureau.
Lee, 62, said the recent deaths of his mother and uncle made him stop and think about what he wanted to do with the next stage of his life. He has no other job.
“Covered California has been a beacon of how the Affordable Care Act can work in many ways,” Lee said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The organization is in excellent shape and I want to see something new.”
Health insurance markets are an important part of the federal Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s health bill.
The marketplace is intended for people who do not have or cannot get health insurance through their work and who are making too much money to qualify for government-funded health care. It is designed to make it easier for these people to get health insurance, and it offers discounts to some people who are earning below a certain income level.
Most states chose to let the federal government run their marketplaces. But California is one of 15 states that have their own marketplace. Lee has been the public face of the California marketplace for the past decade, traveling across the state promoting it with the fervor of an evangelist.
He insisted on negotiating prices with health insurers and standardizing services for all tariffs so that consumers can more easily compare tariffs when making a purchase decision.
“He is ready to negotiate and say no to insurers that offer no value and hold the plans for higher standards of quality and equity accountable,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a consumer protection group. “I think it is proof of his work that we have had an average premium increase of less than 2% over the past three years.”
When Republican President Donald Trump was in office, the federal government cut its marketing budget for the federal market. But Lee spent about $ 100 million a year – money derived from low premium fees – on marketing in California, including television and radio advertising in multiple languages, and paid social media influencers to get people out on health insurance encourage.
“He definitely made his mark by making it clear that health insurance doesn’t necessarily sell itself, that you market it like any other product,” said Larry Levitt, executive vice president of health policy at Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit group that focuses on health issues.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human resources secretary and chairman of the board of directors of Covered California, said the agency would launch a national search for Lee’s successor.
“Today, Covered California is an integral part of our state’s universal coverage drive and is in a great position to continue its mission of service and innovation as a state and national leader,” said Ghaly.