Colorado’s health insurance exchange board has chosen it’s chairwoman: Gretchen Hammer, the executive director of the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved. Gretchen was elected by the board in a 7 – 2 vote over Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Robert Ruiz-Moss, with several board members expressing the sentiment that although both candidates were well qualified for the job, Hammer’s position as a voice for consumers (particularly those who don’t have realistic access to health care) rather than the health insurance industry would help to sway public support in favor of the exchange. The Colorado exchange has received some early criticism based on the make-up of the board, as several board members have ties – direct and indirect – to the health insurance industry. I’ve noted that my own opinion is that it would tough to implement a successful exchange without the knowledge of the health insurance industry that those board members bring to the table. But I think that the board’s election of Hammer to lead them does help to balance things out and make sure that the consumer voice is heard alongside that of the health insurance industry.
I’m a bit late to the party here, but I just saw the names of the exchange board members, and was happy to see Nathan Wilkes on the list (until now, I just knew their affiliations – Wilkes is a business owner). I first wrote about Wilkes and his family’s health insurance struggles more than four years ago, and have been humbled and impressed by how hard he has fought to maintain health insurance coverage for his son and bring about change in the system to benefit other families like his. One of the first provisions of the PPACA was to do away with lifetime maximums on health insurance policies, which greatly benefits families like Wilkes’ who are dealing with chronic, serious illnesses that need on-going treatment.
I know that there are still criticisms surrounding the make-up of the Colorado exchange board, but I think that members like Hammer and Wilkes will be a strong voice for consumers, and that the health insurance industry reps will bring extensive industry knowledge to the table. Without their expertise, a board that is setting up a forum to market private health insurance might flounder or inadvertently create an exchange that didn’t succeed in attracting high-quality health insurance carriers. The health insurance carriers also have a strong desire to see the exchanges succeed, since they will have the opportunity to insure millions of people who have previously been without health insurance. I’m hopeful that the exchange board in Colorado can work together to find solutions that balance the needs of consumers and the insurance industry.