Richard Chambers Tuesday announced his resignation as the CEO of CalOptima, Orange County’s $1.4-billion health program for poor and elderly people.

Chambers, who has led CalOptima since 2004, will leave in April to become president of Long Beach-based Molina Healthcare California, a physician-owned firm that manages Medi-Cal and Medicare coverage for 350,000 people in five counties.

“It is with deep regret that I received Richard Chambers’ resignation today,” stated Edward Kacic, chairman of the CalOptima Board of Directors, in a news release. “It is difficult to imagine a CalOptima without Richard. However, with new leadership, we will continue to be a model for the effective delivery of care to Medi-Cal and Medicare recipients.”

Chambers’ resignation comes as the 18-year-old health plan is in the middle of a bruising transformation as county Supervisor Janet Nguyen, backed by hospitals and other health providers, revamped its board to give the medical industry a stronger voice and potentially full control.

Chambers is at least the third top executive to leave CalOptima since Nguyen moved to control its board.

Kacic stated in the release that he would ask the full CalOptima board to serve as a search committee to find a replacement for Chambers and will ask patients who use CalOptima and the medical industry for their comments.

“This is too important an appointment at too critical a time to not engage our full Board and our stakeholders,” Kacic asserted in the release.

CalOptima provides Medi-Cal and other publicly funded health coverage to 424,000 low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities in Orange County.

Nguyen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A hospital industry fundraiser for Nguyen, who is up for re-election this year, is scheduled for Feb. 28.

County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Moorlach, Nguyen’s predecessor on the CalOptima board, opposed her efforts to revamp the agency’s board of directors, among other issues, but Nguyen had the support of two other supervisors on the five-member board.

On Tuesday, Moorlach said it is “going to be a big loss to the county of Orange to lose his [Chambers’] leadership and experience. I thought he was a consumate professional and really did a great job for CalOptima.”

Nguyen’s changes expanded the CalOptima board from nine to 11 members. New members were supposed to be appointed last month, but they haven’t been named yet. One of the permanent members of the board is the director of the county Health Care Agency. Former director David Riley retired in December, and no replacement has been named.

The board also is in the process of hiring an outside firm to conduct an overall management audit. Results of the audit, to be completed within the next few months, are to be made public.

The top management changes come as health plans nationwide are preparing for the new national health plan, which goes into effect in two years and is expected to add substantially to the number of those covered by medical services.

One major issue will be how much medical providers are paid for their services.


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