After a bruising few months, Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen has taken hold of CalOptima, the county’s $1.4-billion managed health care plan, and will be the lead supervisor on CalOptima issues for the next two years.

Supervisors finalized her appointment Tuesday on a 3-0 vote, Supervisors Shawn Nelson and John Moorlach abstaining.

Nelson protested that the CalOptima appointment is now done separately from other annual appointments to paid and nonpaid boards. Those appointments were done as another agenda item on Tuesday.

“I just think it’s a bad practice,” said Nelson, who led Chairman Moorlach in dissenting. “It’s not a process that passes the smell the test.”

Nguyen has battled against CalOptima, calling it obtuse and nontransparent on governance issues and criticizing the approval of executive bonuses while copays rise for poor users.

Nguyen in turn has been accused of having a political agenda behind her criticisms and trying to pack the CalOptima board with health-care industry insiders at the expense of representation for patients.

Nguyen was successful in getting more representation for hospitals on the CalOptima board, which recently approved an audit of the program’s operations.

Meanwhile for the third consecutive year, CalOptima has been honored by the state for “superior performance,” according to a news release from the chairman of the state Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board.

Federal and state funds are used in the program, called Healthy Families in California, to provide health and dental coverage and an optional vision care plan for children without insurance.

Statewide, 25 health plans participate in the Healthy Families program, but only three, including CalOptima, have received a “superior” rating three years running, the announcement stated. California is required by federal law to rate the performance of the programs each year.

The other two “superior” programs are the San Francisco Health Plan and the Northern California Kaiser Foundation Health Plan.

Judging from the reluctance of other supervisors to deal with CalOptima, Nguyen is expected to have a free hand in dealing with the program for the next two years.

Moorlach was discussed as an alternate, but he refused, saying he’s chairman of the Board of Supervisors this year and too busy. Supervisor Pat Bates also refused the alternate appointment, saying, “I’m extremely busy in my assignments. Maybe we can ask Supervisor Campbell.”

Campbell reluctantly agreed, noting that “having stepped down as chair [of the Board of Supervisors], my life is easy.”


Since you've made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.