New Head of Healthcare.gov Is Connecticut’s Kevin Counihan

Washington, DC, United States (KaiserHealth) – Kevin Counihan, the head of Connecticut’s health insurance marketplace, will be the new CEO of healthcare.gov, the website that 36 states use to sell Affordable Care Act insurance, the administration announced at noon today.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell tapped Counihan to lead the site as part of a revamped management structure that aims to have the second year of Obamacare run more smoothly than the first.

Access Health CT, under Counihan’s leadership, is one of the more successful state-run exchanges. About 79,000 people signed up for coverage through Connecticut’s exchange, and another 120,000 gained Medicaid coverage. Surveys show that about half the people who gained coverage in the state were previously uninsured.

But taking the reins of healthcare.gov will be a much tougher job. Connecticut has a Democratic governor and legislature, and it embraced the law early, including the expansion of Medicaid. Healthcare.gov serves states that are actively hostile to the law in the Deep South, states that are embracing the law to some minimal degree and states that are active partners in running the exchange.

At a press conference in Hartford on Tuesday, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said Burwell had called him to discuss Counihan. The governor joked that Counihan should have his head examined for agreeing to go to Washington.

Burwell, in a press release, said that Counihan “will be a clear, single point of contact for streamlined decision-making.” The release announced several other hires as well.

Obamacare Year 2 starts with enrollment opening on Nov. 15, and the challenges are many. In addition to making sure the technical glitches stay in the rearview mirror, Counihan will be responsible for keeping people who are already signed up satisfied, as well as reaching out to the millions of Americans who are eligible for coverage but not yet insured.

Counihan’s exchange excelled at marketing Obamacare insurance – taking the pitch to Lil Wayne concerts, jazz festivals and a storefront on a city street. And he credits some of that success to the pool of talent he was able to draw on in Hartford, an insurance capital.

Counihan has several decades of experience in healthcare, including launching complex new coverage programs. After a career in the private insurance industry (Tufts Health Plan, Cigna), he helped launch Massachusetts’ successful health exchange starting in 2006. He also helped launch a private insurance exchange in California.

Counihan is the second high-profile addition to the Healthcare.gov second year team. Earlier this summer HHS brought on Andy Slavitt, who helped fix the site’s initial problems as an executive with contractor Optum.

Julie Rovner contributed.

– Provided by Kaiser Health News.

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