CQ: District of Columbia Exchange Making a Splash

March 11, 2013 – 4:41 p.m.

District of Columbia Exchange Making a Splash

By Rebecca Adams, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

The District of Columbia Health Benefits Exchange is getting attention for its ambitious policy plans and veteran inside-the-beltway hires.

Mila Kofman, a former superintendent of insurance for Maine, took the helm as executive director on Jan. 2 and has been moving forward quickly since then. Instead of relying only on officials with experience within the D.C. government, she recruited a number of policy analysts who are well-known for their work on Capitol Hill, in federal agencies or at the nation’s largest health plan trade association, America’s Health Insurance Plans.

“Because we have so little time, I need experts who can hit the ground running and I need diverse experiences so that’s the kind of team trying to build,” said Kofman. “We’re a startup. . .So it’s important to bring in people who are not afraid of a little chaos.”

During her short tenure, Kofman already has faced a controversy with the District’s small business owners. Last year, the D.C. exchange board members proposed that all individuals and small businesses buy insurance coverage through the new marketplace set up under the health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152).

Small company owners balked, saying that they like their current coverage and were unsure about how it could change or whether the exchange could experience operational issues. When she came on board, Kofman asked the exchange’s advisory board to come up with a solution.

The board is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a compromise plan that would give small businesses in the District that already offer insurance two more years to come into the exchange. But individuals and companies getting coverage for the first time would have to enroll through the new marketplace. And all of the plans, regardless of whether they’re sold through the exchange or outside of it, would have to abide by the essential health benefits coverage required by the overhaul law.

Kofman’s interest in ultimately requiring everyone in the District to enroll through the exchange is being watched closely to see how it is implemented.

“One of the biggest benefits for having one big marketplace is I do think it’ll drive down prices because if all insurers have to display their products side by side, insurers will not want to overprice them,” she said. She said that the transparency and the ability of consumers to make apples-to-apples comparisons what will help drive down premium costs. Kofman made similar arguments last week at a National Press Club briefing.

She will have a number of people with policy expertise to help her. They include Purvee Kempf, who is the deputy general counsel and chief policy advisor. Kempf comes to the exchange after working for the Democratic staff of the House Energy and Commerce committee for nearly a decade.

The staff also includes General Counsel Jeff Gabardi, who served as the senior vice president of state affairs for America’s Health Insurance Plans from 2001 until he retired in 2011. Garbardi led the industry’s lobbying efforts in the states, including its work on the implementation of the law. Before that, he was general counsel for the Health Insurance Association of America, a trade group that merged with another to form AHIP in 2003.

Another hire announced Monday is Debbie Curtis, who will be the senior deputy director for policy and exchange programs. Curtis has more than 23 years of experience working on Capitol Hill, most recently on the Democratic Ways and Means Committee staff. Before that, she worked for 15 years in a joint position as the chief of staff for former Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., and as a professional staffer on the Ways and Means Democratic staff. She graduated from Boston University with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

Also joining the team is Richard Sorian, former Department of Health and Human Services assistant secretary for public affairs under Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Sorian is the exchange’s director of communications, education and outreach.

Sorian was a senior advisor to HHS Secretary Donna Shalala for five years during the Clinton Administration and is a former deputy director of the President’s Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Healthcare Industry. From 2003-2010, he was vice president for public policy and external relations for the National Committee for Quality Assurance, the accreditation organization for health insurance plans.

Kofman also is relying on a number of short-term volunteer working groups to help clarify knotty policy decisions with a very tight time frame of a few weeks each. She has already commissioned 10 task forces, five of which have already given her recommendations.

Kofman said that the volunteer work helps her fulfill one of her main goals: to involve the diverse members of the community and “build our exchange from the ground up.”

Source: CQ Online News

Same-day coverage of the people and events shaping health care policy from Washington.

© 2013 CQ Roll Call All Rights Reserved.


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