“Two emeritus professors at UC Berkeley School of Public Health have proposed a California public option health insurance plan called Golden Choice that could save more than $243 million in its first year and lower insurance premiums throughout the state marketplace.”
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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.
By Richard M. Scheffler, Stephen M. Shortell, and Daniel R. Arnold | Published April 21, 2022 | Link to Full Report
California’s challenge and opportunity is to provide accessible, affordable, equitable, and
continuously improving quality of care to its entire population. Governor Newsom has expanded
Medi-Cal to cover undocumented adult immigrants, which when combined with the Biden
administration’s premium subsidy increases, will result in near universal coverage for all in
California. Nonetheless, the affordability of such coverage remains a major challenge for the
state. A recent CHCF / NORC survey of Californians reported that just over half (52%) of
respondents said they skipped or postponed care due to costs. Additionally, more than 1 in 3
(36%) reported having medical debt, with 1 in 5 (19%) of those with medical debt owing $5,000
or more. Just over half (52%) of people with lower incomes surveyed reported having medical
debt, compared to 30% for those with higher incomes. Furthermore, Latino/x (52%) and Black
(48%) Californians were more likely to have medical debt than White (28%) and Asian (27%)
Californians. Between 2008 and 2018, Californians’ health care spending experienced a 68%
increase, compared to only a 16% increase in median household income. The growth in health
insurance premiums has far exceeded that of wages over the last two decades.
Building on the success of Covered California (the state’s innovative health insurance
exchange) and the presence of organized/integrated medical groups and independent practice
associations (IPAs) with experience in providing care under risk-adjusted per member per
month payments, the state has the potential to develop a public option that increases
competition in the health insurance market, which would lower price and can improve quality. A
public option plan (POP) is a state plan to offer health insurance for the purpose of increasing
competition, consumer choice, and affordability of coverage. Improvements in affordability
would be particularly important for low-income and minority populations, as their wages are
lower. We test the viability of our POP on Covered California and CalPERS. Furthermore, we
show how the L.A. Care county-based plan was successful in attaining enrollment while
lowering premium growth for all plans in the LA Regions of Covered California. At this time, we
are not recommending that a POP be offered on Covered California or by CalPERS. This
decision will need to be made by them, legislators, or the governor. Nonetheless, our analysis
shows that our POP would have lower premiums than many of the plans currently on the
This study was funded by the Commonwealth Fund (Grant No. 20223713).