State health exchange taps 1st executive director

An Obama Administration official who has been working to shore up federal health programs will come to California later this year to run the state’s new Health Benefit Exchange.

Peter Lee in October will become the HBE’s first executive director. The exchange – created pursuant to last year’s national health care reforms, and set to open in 2014 – will aim to make it easier for individuals and small businesses to compare plans and buy health insurance on the private market through a more stable risk pool, greater purchasing power, more competition among insurers and detailed information regarding about the price, quality and service of health coverage.

Lee currently is deputy director for policy and programs at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, an agency created by the Affordable Care Act to revitalize and sustain Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Exchange chairwoman and California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley called Lee “a nationally respected leader in health care who has led innovative projects aimed at promoting health, improving care quality and reducing cost in the health care delivery system.”

“His more than 25 years of health policy experience and deep understanding of California’s challenges and opportunities make him the right leader to ensure the success of our new health insurance marketplace,” she said.

Before his current job, Lee was director of delivery system reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Health Reform, supporting implementation of parts of the Affordable Care Act dealing with delivering higher quality, more affordable healthcare.

Earlier yet, Lee was CEO and then executive director for national health policy of the San Francisco-based Pacific Business Group on Health, a coalition of private and public purchasers. Before that, he was executive director of the Center for Health Care Rights, a Los Angeles-based consumer advocacy group. In the 1980s, he worked on healthcare issues in Washington, D.C., including a stint as director of programs for the National AIDS Network. He holds a law degree from the University of Southern California and his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

“Congratulations to Peter in his new role creating a new consumer-friendly marketplace of the future, to dramatically help Californians to get affordable health coverage,” Health Access California Executive Director Anthony Wright said in a news release. “Peter has been a longtime champion of large purchasers using their bargaining power to get the best value in coverage and care. It’s appropriate he will lead the effort to allow millions of Californians to pool together to bargain for the best price and value with the insurance industry.”

Wright said picking Lee shows the exchange not only has authority to negotiate with insurers for the best value, but plans to actively use it. “Peter Lee will have the opportunity to structure a market where insurers compete based on cost and quality, customer service and wellness, rather than how effectively they avoid people who need care, and confuse the rest of us with the complexity of their benefits.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.