By Richard M. Scheffler, Stephen M. Shortell | Published April 21, 2023 in The Commonwealth Fund | Link to Full Article
A public option is a government-established health insurance plan designed to inject more competition into the market and improve coverage affordability over time. Despite widespread support, little progress has been made at the federal or state level toward creating such a plan. We propose a public option plan for California, Golden Choice, that would be based on the state’s “delegated model” of health care under which provider organizations accept the financial risk for delivering health care services.
Even though a “public option” health plan has support from the Biden administration as well as the majority of voters, little progress has been made in creating one at the federal level.1 At the state and county levels, public options — simply, health insurance plans established by governmental entities — have been introduced to increase competition in the insurance market and improve affordability of health coverage over time. Governmental authorities can either directly administer these plans or establish a public–private partnership whereby the state sets requirements for private health plans to offer coverage.
Absent federal action, several states like Washington, Colorado, Nevada, and Minnesota have developed their own public option plans, with many other states in the process of developing plans.2 These plans rely on price caps or regulations, such as a requirement that insurers offer a public option plan to participate in Medicaid.3 To date, however, they have had little success in attracting enrollment or increasing competition among insurers to lower premiums.4
We propose a different type of public option plan for California. It would be based on the state’s “delegated model” of health care: provider organizations accept the financial risk of delivering health services, and their earnings are linked to their ability to keep patient care costs within a budget. Below we describe this new approach to a public option, which we call Golden Choice, and evaluate its potential impact on consumers’ health insurance premiums.