Congratulations Beth and Welcome Judi!

With ambivalence but great appreciation, we here at Health Access California, wish hearty congratulations to Beth Abbott, just announced by Governor Jerry Brown to soon start as the new director of the Office of the Patient Advocate (OPA).

Beth Abbott will lead a revamped OPA, which continues to be in charge of publishing quality ratings and a report card on health insurers, and will take on new responsibilities collecting, tracking and reporting on data from state health consumer assistance agencies. Health Access also is pleased to announce starting this week our new Director of Policy Research and Communications, Judi Hilman, who had been the founder and executive director of the Utah Health Policy Project for seven years, leading consumer health advocacy and reform work in that state, before coming back home to California. More about Judi down below.

As per California’s new Patient Advocate: Our loss is California consumers’ gain–we are pleased that Beth will take the helm of this newly-revamped state agency, and have full confidence she will make it a meaningful force in improving the experience of consumers who are dealing with health insurance issues. Beth Abbott is one of few people in the state for whom the Patient Advocate is so perfect a title. We are pleased she is taking charge of a restructured Office of the Patient Advocate to make sure it lives up to that title, in making sure consumers get the help they need when picking and dealing with health insurers.

Under the changes in state law, OPA’s major functions include health care quality report cards, with clinical performance and patient experience data for the state’s largest health plans and over 200 affiliated medical groups; compiling and reporting on how state health consumer assistance call centers are (or are not) helping patients, from the Department of Managed Health Care, Department of Insurance, Department of Health Care Services, and Covered California; and the development of model protocols for these call center agencies.

Beth Abbott has been with Health Access for nearly nine years, serving as our Director of Administrative Advocacy since 2006, working on behalf of California consumers before state and federal agencies. She also had been a constant consumer advocate presence at many agencies, including the Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC), the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), the Department of Insurance (CDI), the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board (MRMIB), Covered California, and many more. As part of that work, she has been one of 15 designated national health Consumer Representatives advising the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) on the implementation of health care and insurance market reforms, since 2010. She also serves on the DMHC’s Financial Solvency Standards Board and other workgroups and task forces.

Among her many contributions, Ms. Abbott co-authored a 2012 Health Access “secret shopper” report on how state health consumer assistance agencies fared when dealing with consumer calls. We applaud Governor Brown’s foresight and courage to bring one of California’s leading patient advocates into his administration. She will be in a unique position to help implement many of her own recommendations on how to improve consumer’s experience in dealing with state health agencies.

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She previously served as the Regional Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that serves the states of California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, and the Far Pacific. She was responsible for the oversight of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, managed care plans, and the quality of care delivered in hospitals and nursing homes. The region serves over 10 million beneficiaries, and has a programmatic budget exceeding $30 billion per year. Before CMS, she worked for the Social Security Administration (SSA) in 17 field and regional offices in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, and throughout California. Ms. Abbott has B.A. in psychology from the University of Redlands and has done graduate work in public administration at the University of Southern California.

Health Access will miss Beth tremendously, from her deep experience working both inside and outside government health agencies, to her doggedness and commitment to consumers, to her humor and her ability to make a strong and forceful point while still leaving you with a smile.

Health Access will continue its advocacy with a new senior staff member, Judi Hilman, our new Director of Policy Research and Communications. A nationally noted health consumer advocate, Judi Hilman has over 15 years of experience working to create and implement robust and financially sustainable solutions to America’s ongoing health care crisis.  Her new position at Health Access is the logical next step in a career dedicated to expanding access to high-quality, affordable health care. Hilman’s previous work at the Utah Health Policy Project (UHPP) exemplifies this commitment.  She founded UHPP in 2006 and served as its executive director until 2013.  UHPP is a nonprofit “think and do tank” that advocates for comprehensive, affordable, high-quality health care coverage for all Utah residents. After leaving UHPP, Hilman served as Chief Advocate and Member Engagement Officer at Arches CO-OP Health Plan in Utah, one of the brand-new cooperative health plans created by the Affordable Care Act to provide creative new models of health coverage oriented around medical homes and re-aligned incentives for providers and patients. Hilman’s leadership in health policy advocacy has been recognized with numerous awards and recognitions.  In 2008, she was selected as one of ten Community Health Leaders by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and in 2011 she was named Consumer Advocate of the Year by Families USA. She has also been honored with awards from CMS (federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services), from the Peter Suazo Social Justice Award by the University of Utah College of Social Work, and from Utah Children and the League of Women Voters.

Born in Los Angeles and raised both in California and Israel, Hilman received her BA in history at the University of California at Berkeley, and obtained a Master’s degree in this subject at Cornell University.  She moved to Salt Lake City in 1999, where she quickly became a nationally-recognized expert in the art of advocating for progressive policy reform within highly conservative legislative environments, and in seeking “post-partisan” solutions – for the individual consumer and for the system as a whole – to the problem of rising health care costs.  Hilman has authored and co-edited several publications, including Utah’s Poor: Solutions for Today’s Economy and Making Sense of Utah Medicaid. When not advocating for health policy reform, she can be found extolling the virtues of walkable communities and bike lanes, community supported agriculture, physical fitness, dog rescue, and good cooking.

After years of working with her as a colleague as leaders of state health consumer advocacy coalitions, and admiring what she was able to accomplish in the politically challenging state of Utah, I am thrilled to have Judi join our team to improve California’s health system. Judi brings a wealth of experience and knowledge that will be helpful as we implement and improve upon the Affordable Care Act, embark on a new Medi-Cal waiver, seek to reduce health costs, cover the remaining uninsured, and strive for quality affordable health care for all.

If we are going to lose a Cespedes-level player like Beth Abbott, it’s good that Health Access is improving our team with a senior, Jon Lester-level talent like Judi Hilman. It’s good for Californians that Beth is on the case, to make sure they get quick, responsive, and meaningful help when selecting a plan, or when dealing with an insurer who is causing grief. It’s also good Health Access will have another senior staff member with a lifetime of service joining us to help fulfill our historic role.

Thanks to all! Congratulations, Beth! Welcome, Judi!

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