California’s health benefits exchange hasn’t been perfect. In the early weeks of Covered California, there were site crashes, incorrect doctor listings and glitches similar to other state-run exchanges. In late February, a software glitch kept visitors from enrolling in health-care plans for several days. But perhaps problems were inevitable since the project was built in 15 months — a tight schedule made possible with 300 staff at Accenture along with 40 more from the state workforce.
Slowly but surely California’s exchange is becoming more stable and offering more functionality than when it went live last fall, thanks to collaborative work by the California Health Benefit Exchange, the California Healthcare Eligibility, Enrollment and Retention System (CalHEERS) and the California Department of Health Care Services. Unsurprisingly, California’s health benefits exchange is the largest state-run exchange in the nation, with more than 625,000 sign-ups for health insurance by mid-January and 584,000 applicants deemed likely eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program.
Peter V. Lee, executive director of the California Health Benefit Exchange, said solid project governance has been a constant. Early on, the state discussed project specs with potential vendors, policymakers and health-care providers so that when it came time to accept RFPs, a good road map already was in place.
“Effective design, good vendor selection and good oversight are the three overlapping elements of why we think we were relatively successful,” Lee said.
Nevertheless, California Health Benefit Exchange CTO Juli Baker said the state had to stay focused and delay some functionality in order to make the Oct. 1 deadline. In December, the state rolled out an enrollment application in Spanish, making California the only state Lee knows of that has put complete enrollment forms online in both English and Spanish.
California also improved at monitoring users’ experience, Lee said. Website users can complete a post-enrollment survey and the state now tracks page load times and other metrics within a performance dashboard. A recent report found that 82 percent of Covered California users said they got all the information they needed to make an informed choice.
“That, to our mind, is a really good point of data,” Lee said.
Matt Williams was previously the news editor of Govtech.com, and is now a contributor to Government Technology and Public CIO magazines. He also previously served as the managing editor of TechWire, a sister publication to Government Technology.2