Supervisor Do Wants to Lead CalOptima Board

County Supervisor Andrew Do wants to be the next board chair at CalOptima, saying he will guide the county’s healthcare program for low-income, elderly and disabled residents through the expected challenges of major nationwide changes to health care.

“I’m in an ideal position to lead this organization in a period of change,” Do told Voice of OC following last week’s monthly CalOptima board of directors meeting.

Do aims to replace outgoing board chair Mark Refowitz at a pivotal time for the $3.4 billion health plan that serves more than 800,000 county residents. It is in some respects still recovering from a rocky past few years, including a highly-critical federal audit that led to new enrollment in one of its programs being blocked for a year.

And now the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have unspecific plans to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, which covers about 234,000 county residents or one third of the CalOptima membership.

The unknown impact of the expected changes was a source of concern to several board members at last week’s meeting.

“The winds are blowing,” said Scott Schoeffel, a medical industry lawyer who joined the Irvine office of Nossaman LLP in November. “They’re blowing somewhat erratically.”

He and others predicted 2017 could see many changes and, Schoeffel said, “we’re not necessarily going to see it coming. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and I hope the board is as well.”

Top CalOptima staff will meet in Washington, D.C., this week with the staff of key legislative committees to discuss the county’s concerns.

The current 10-member CalOptima board has been in place just six months. It includes two county supervisors (Lisa Bartlett is currently the other) as a result of a years-long scandal involving former Supervisor Janet Nguyen, who is now a state senator.

In 2011, Nguyen re-drafted the ordinance that governs CalOptima — a move that her critics claim was done to pack the board with medical industry insiders who would develop industry-friendly policies and help steer donations to her political campaigns. A 2013 county grand jury report determined that Nguyen’s ordinance was written by the Hospital Association of Southern California (HASC).

The Board of Supervisors’ response to Nguyen’s actions was to have two supervisors serve on the board, ostensibly so one wouldn’t be able to dominate the board like Nguyen did.

Do — who won a special election for the First District supervisorial seat in 2015 after Nguyen stepped down to assume her state Senate seat, and then won re-election last year — would be the first supervisor to serve as board chair. He has repeatedly said he wants the current board to be independent and ready to publicly debate issues.

At last week’s meeting Do said he and Bartlett recast the board because they “wanted a dynamic board” that was independent and “very knowledgeable.”

However, the board is still dominated by the health industry, which holds six of the nine voting seats (Refowitz is the chair but is not a voting member) — and Do has benefitted politically from CalOptima in much the same way as Nguyen did.

Nguyen raised at least $100,000 from the medical industry, including lobbying groups, after her 2011 remake of the board. Do brought in more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from the medical industry last year, according to records on file with the county Registrar of Voters.

The new board chairmanship will be decided at the March 2 board meeting. An ad hoc committee, led by Refowitz, who is retiring as head of the county Health Care Agency, will recommend a new chair based on how many of the current board members express interest in the slot.

Do said in an interview he sees himself as a leader who can mesh the work of CalOptima with that of the county Health Care Agency to care for groups that now may be overlooked, like Cambodian refugees suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“Do we really know what we need to do to serve different groups?” he asked. “That’s the kind of vision I think the chair should have and I would like to bring to the board.”

You can contact Tracy Wood at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: @TracyVOC.