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Mary Watanabe Speaks at CAHU 2016 Capital Summit

by John Hansen

Deputy Director of the Department of Managed Health Care Offers Help to California Consumers and Agents

Dave Fear, the Vice President of the California Association of Health Underwriters, introduced Mary Watanabe. He couldn’t speak highly enough about her and the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC). The DMHC supports agents and consumers with issues related to health insurance in California.

The Power of the DMHC

Fear began with a personal story about how his best friend from high school was dealing with a health care problem. The friend was caught between Covered California and the insurance carrier, whom he left unnamed. Both parties were blaming the other. “I went to Mary at the DMHC, and within a week it was dealt with,” says Fear. “[The health plan] said every claim will be paid. Once DMHC got involved, the carrier stopped complaining and said, ‘Whatever you say?’” After that, the carrier stopped fighting and gave the client all the services he needed.

Deputy Director, Mary Watanabe

Mary Watanabe is the embodiment of the saying, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” She’s a sweet, kind lady and she represents a powerful government agency that makes California health insurance plans cringe. Often, just the threat of calling the Department of Managed Health Care will bring immediate resolution to a consumer’s conflict with a California medical insurance company.

Watanabe is the Deputy Director over Health Policy and Stakeholder Relations at the Department of Managed Health Care. She is the primary advisor to the director.

Before coming to the DMHC, she Served 12 years on the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board (MRMIB) and she worked for the Pre-Existing Insurance Plan (PCIP). Most recently, she worked with the sales department at Covered California. She oversaw navigators and outreach for the California Exchange. She and the DMHC enjoy a strong relationship with Covered California.

She Supports Agents, and They Respect Her

She is also highly respected by California insurance agents. Dave Fear recalls her days with Covered California. He commented, “She got agents together and asked, ‘What do you think of Covered California? What can we do better?” In so doing, she gained a lot of respect with insurance brokers in California.

Wednesday, May 18, she commented at the CAHU Capital Summit, “I’ve met with a small number of agents, and the response was overwhelming. I get plenty of calls regarding people with health insurance problems.” She commented how more than once agents had called her while sitting next to a client who was crying at the agent’s desk.

Watanabe encouraged the agents saying, “You have relationship with your clients. Every time they have a problem, they come back to you.” The reality is that when California consumers come back to their insurance agent, sometimes the agents need help as well. When an agent feels that Covered California or one of the health insurance carriers, like Anthem, Blue Shield or Kaiser, isn’t treating their client well, the agent can on behalf of the client appeal to the Department of Managed Health Care for help.

Ms. Watanabe added, “Getting access to care can be difficult. You [the insurance agents] are critical.” She went on to make very clear that the DMHC is here to help agents in their role of assisting California consumers.