So Long Sendero Health Plans?

Nonprofit health insurer could be phased out by close of 2019

So Long Sendero Health Plans?

Saturday marks the latest, and perhaps final, milestone for Sendero Health Plans, after the Central Health Board of Managers requested a delay in approving the health care district's FY 2019 budget to receive further public input. That budget, which was slated to be approved Tuesday by the Travis County Commissioners Court, calls for winding down Sendero by the end of 2019.

Sendero, a nonprofit health insurer serving Travis County residents, was created by Central Health in 2011 as an extension of its mission to improve access to care, and later took advantage of the Affordable Care Act marketplace to build its customer base to currently cover 24,000 people. However, Sendero has lost increasing amounts of money, finishing last year about $33 million in the red, and has already exited the market for Medicaid and CHIP coverage. Faced with this grim financial picture, the board of managers voted 4-3 last week to cap Sendero funding in the FY 2019 budget at $24 million, tantamount to shutting it down a year from now.

This is naturally not going over well with some of those covered by Sendero, who along with members of the League of United Latin American Citizens and other Central Health critics appealed to the Commis­sioners Court, which by statute has to approve Central Health's budget, but can't change it. Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt says that for her, "the board needs to make a decision about how to cap its risk going forward, and whatever decision that is, I can support it. Whatever that decision is, it's not arbitrary or capricious." It's not clear, however, that a majority of the court agrees, although their options are limited.

While the board – which has been talking about Sendero (much of the time in executive session) for months – may have felt that it made that decision already, Central Health stresses that the Saturday meeting is not a formality. "We're going to embrace all that people have to offer," Central Health President and CEO Mike Geeslin told commissioners, "because that helps inform the decision."

The Board of Managers special meeting is Sat., Sept. 22, 1pm, at Central Health’s headquarters, 1111 E. Cesar Chavez.

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Sendero Health Plans, Central Health, Sarah Eckhardt, Mike Geeslin

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