Covered California leader Peter Lee, who steered insurance exchange to prominence, to exit post

·2 min read

After 10 years at the helm of Covered California, Peter V. Lee announced Thursday that he would leave his post in early 2022, having significantly reduced the number of uninsured Californians and steered the health insurance marketplace to national prominence.

“I’ve been privileged to be part of the Covered California team and the broader effort in this state to do everything we can to use the Affordable Care Act to expand ensure those with coverage get the right care at the right time,” Lee said in a prepared news release. “I will be stepping down as Covered California’s executive director after the upcoming open-enrollment period, with pride and confidence in the team at Covered California, who have taught me so much and who are poised to continue our important work.”

The board of Covered California, led by Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly, plan a national search for Lee’s successor.

Of Lee’s seminal role, Ghaly said: “The progress we have made improving health care in California and across the nation would not have happened without Peter’s dedication, vision and leadership.”

Over the course of Lee’s tenure, California saw its rate of uninsured residents drop by the largest percentage of any state in the nation, to 7.7% in 2019 from 17.2% in 2013. A record 1.6 million Californians are enrolled now as state and federal subsidies substantially dropped premiums.

“Today, Covered California is an indispensable part of our state’s drive toward universal coverage and is in a great position to continue its mission of service and innovation as a state and national leader,” Ghaly said.

Lee emphasized holding health plans accountable for equitable and high-quality insurance plans at affordable prices, and as years passed, the percentage of Covered California enrollees in plans with three to five stars rose to 88% in 2020 from 26% in 2016.

In interviews, Lee often stressed that patients in Covered California’s silver, gold and platinum plans could see their primary care doctors and specialists or get lab exams without having to pay a deductible. These out-of-pocket expenses often keep people from seeking care.

Lee said he’s not leaving to take another position but rather that he would take some time to consider other opportunities.

“There will be time to look for the next mountain to climb,” Lee said. “Right now, Covered California and I are wholly committed to doing our job of helping Californians during this pandemic and making sure that as many people as possible have access to the care they need and coverage they can count on.”

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