Yesterday, the California Health Benefit Exchange Board (HBEx) held its final meeting of the year. 2011 was an eventful year for the Exchange, leaving California well positioned to create a competitive health insurance marketplace for millions of Californians by Jan 1, 2014.

The new marketplace HBEx is working towards will have easy to understand information, letting us make real, apples-to apples comparisons among plans so we can choose one that best fits our families’ needs and budget. Comparisons will be based on cost, quality and provider network. Insurers will not be able to discriminate based on things like gender and health status. Moreover, you may be able to get help if you have trouble affording health insurance.

Reinventing how we get health insurance so it doesn’t feel like a hopeless, confusing and overly expensive hassle is a tall order. 2014 can’t come soon enough for the uninsured or those struggling to afford decent coverage. However, reforming the marketplace so it provides high quality, secure healthcare takes a lot of planning and effort.

In 2011, the Exchange took significant steps. It acquired funding from the feds to get off the ground, hired an executive director, established a strategic vision and principles focused on providing consumers with a first class experience and creating a culture of coverage. The Board explored ways to ensure you stay covered while you go through significant life changes, like losing a job or getting divorced. They also explored how small businesses can offer their employees quality coverage at an affordable price, using tax incentives as an important tool.

Those are only the first steps to making health insurance more consumer-friendly. 2012 promises to be a pivotal year. The HBEx work plan is quite ambitious. The Exchange’s success hinges largely on how many people know about the new marketplace, and that will depend on affordability, benefits and financial help provided, useable quality measurements, and ensuring there is no wrong door for consumers who are seeking coverage in the new marketplace. All of these issues and more are on tap for the coming year.

The coming year’s theme will be making all the various demands explored in 2011 and 2012 work in harmony. Getting and keeping quality, affordable and secure health insurance for you and your family should not feel like a confusing burden that creates a sense of dread when you’re seeking coverage or when you open a health insurance bill. We are seizing an opportunity to change our current ,dysfunctional system into an easy, consumer friendly one– the coming year promises to be an exciting and eventful one toward achieving that end.