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[UPDATED at 7:45 p.m. ET]
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, struggling to salvage a once-bright political future dimmed by his mishandling of the covid disaster, tapped nonprofit well being insurer Blue Protect of California final week to allocate the state’s covid vaccine.
The corporate has so far mentioned little about the way it plans to reorganize a gargantuan and complex vaccination marketing campaign that has befuddled and annoyed public well being officers and vaccine seekers alike.
The settlement with Blue Protect was made below an emergency authorization, circumventing the customary bidding course of. Kaiser Permanente, California’s largest well being plan, may also help within the effort below an emergency contract. (KHN is just not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)
Blue Protect’s job will likely be to develop and handle a community of suppliers to distribute and administer vaccines at quite a few venues statewide, together with cellular clinics, main vaccination websites and the houses of at-risk residents, in keeping with particulars launched by the state Monday. Blue Protect may also design a system of monetary incentives to encourage suppliers to make use of their vaccine provide extra rapidly, with a specific give attention to these disproportionately hit by the pandemic. And it’ll create a real-time information aggregation and reporting system.
Kaiser Permanente, past inoculating its 9 million members, will create and oversee at the least two vaccination websites, along with different unspecified efforts, to vaccinate underserved communities.
Newsom hopes that changing the patchwork of county-by-county efforts with a centralized system will speed up the tempo of vaccinations.
The vaccine rollout has been stricken by early stumbles, together with complicated appointment programs; shifting guidelines on vaccine eligibility; lengthy strains which have saved older individuals ready for hours, main some to desert their quest and go house unvaccinated; and defective information assortment that left state officers unable to say whether or not Newsom had met his aim of administering 1 million doses in 10 days.
Some well being care consultants cautiously welcomed the brand new plan, saying Blue Protect might assist convey extra construction and effectivity to the enterprise of vaccinating California’s almost 40 million residents.
Blue Protect is the third-largest well being insurer in California, after Kaiser Permanente and Anthem Blue Cross. It contracts with numerous hospitals, medical teams, pharmacies and different suppliers throughout the state. Newsom is relying on the insurer’s in depth net of relationships to assist get vaccines out extra rapidly and successfully.
Since Blue Protect “has obtained a corporation with a statewide footprint and data of the geography and the inhabitants, it appears they might suppose by means of all of the scheduling and logistics,” mentioned Glenn Melnick, a professor of well being economics on the College of Southern California’s Sol Worth Faculty of Public Coverage.
A coalition of skeptical teams representing county and native well being officers warned Newsom on Friday that his plan “threatens to eclipse our members’ core native public well being experience and capabilities.” Some well being consultants suspected the choice to usher in Blue Protect was associated to the insurer’s historical past as a serious Newsom donor.
Listed here are solutions to 5 key questions on Blue Protect’s participation within the covid vaccination program:
1. Is Blue Protect as much as the duty?
Time will inform. Regardless of its expertise and clout within the well being care business, Blue Protect has by no means tried something of such magnitude — with a lot driving on it and so many eyes watching.
Skeptics observe that Blue Protect’s monitor report in delivering well being care to its enrollees has not all the time been stellar. Its rollout of Inexpensive Care Act well being plans in 2014 was beset by errors, and it has been fined by regulators for improper protection cancellations and shopper grievance violations, amongst different issues. In 2015, it misplaced its state tax-exempt standing following an argument over giant premium hikes and its hefty monetary reserves.
In 2019, the latest 12 months for which information is out there, Blue Protect had the second-highest charge of shopper complaints — after UnitedHealthcare — among the many 9 largest California well being plans regulated by the state’s Division of Managed Well being Care. And it obtained the bottom attainable rating on entry to care within the 2019-20 well being plan scores by the Nationwide Committee for High quality Assurance.
2. Was Newsom’s determination politically motivated?
It’s exhausting to say definitively with out having been a fly on the wall, however Blue Protect is on superb phrases with the governor.
It gave about $1 million to assist Newsom’s 2018 gubernatorial bid, in keeping with filings with the California Secretary of State Workplace. Final 12 months, the corporate contributed an extra $31,000 to Newsom’s 2022 marketing campaign for governor, in addition to $269,000 to his poll measure committee.
“The fact, I believe, is that it displays the tight relationship Blue Protect has constructed with Newsom, not its capabilities,” mentioned Michael Johnson, a former Blue Protect govt who resigned from the corporate in 2015 and is now considered one of its fiercest critics.
As well as, Blue Protect’s CEO, Paul Markovich, was co-chair of Newsom’s covid testing activity drive from March to June final 12 months – expertise that some well being care consultants cited as an asset within the insurer’s new function.
One other attainable issue within the governor’s determination to shake issues up is his political want to show issues round rapidly, with an effort to recall him gaining momentum from the vaccination chaos.
3. Is Blue Protect effectively positioned to perform the equitable distribution of vaccines to underserved communities that Newsom known as “the North Star” of the brand new centralized system?
These communities usually are not amongst Blue Protect’s core constituency. It has a small presence in Medi-Cal, the state-funded insurance coverage program for individuals with low incomes — and solely in Los Angeles and San Diego counties. However it does have relationships with quite a few hospitals and different suppliers that serve Medi-Cal sufferers. It is going to additionally have to collaborate with the state’s counties.
“It’s essential that Blue Protect be required to work hand in hand with native public well being jurisdictions to achieve weak populations that should not have the identical degree of entry to conventional well being care,” mentioned Sara Bosse, director of Madera County’s Division of Public Well being.
4. What might have motivated Blue Protect to sort out such an onerous project?
Its fee from the state will likely be at price, so there’s no obvious revenue motive. Although Blue Protect might theoretically leverage its vaccine decision-making energy to the benefit of its personal enterprise, well being care consultants doubt it might behave in such a cynical method.
“Our aim is to do all we will to assist overcome this pandemic, and it’s our dedication to try this work at price with out making a revenue from the state,” Blue Protect mentioned in a information launch Friday.
Melnick mentioned he knew of no different well being plan within the nation that has jumped in to assist public officers with testing or vaccinations. If Blue Protect succeeds, “it might be a solution for lots of states and will put stress on different plans to step up,” he mentioned. By the identical token, Blue Protect will most likely catch the blame if vaccine provide shortages proceed.
Johnson, the previous Blue Protect govt, advised a motive apart from pure selflessness. “I believe the largest worth to Blue Protect is the status of it,” he mentioned. “It implies Blue Protect has the talent and integrity to be entrusted with one thing this very important to tens of tens of millions of individuals.”
5. How will Blue Protect’s outcomes be measured?
It shouldn’t be too troublesome to find out whether or not the insurer is assembly two key objectives the state set for it: to hurry up the tempo of vaccinations and to focus particularly on underserved communities. Each might be measured.
The bar for achievement is fairly low, Johnson mentioned. “The entire thing has been managed so disastrously,” he mentioned, “that it wouldn’t be troublesome for Blue Protect to enhance on the state’s efficiency so far and are available out of this trying prefer it did a very good job.”
California Healthline political correspondent Samantha Younger and KHN correspondent Anna Almendrala contributed to this report.
Kaiser Well being Information (KHN) is a nationwide well being coverage information service. It’s an editorially unbiased program of the Henry J. Kaiser Household Basis which isn’t affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.
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