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8/27/2014
04:06 PM
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HealthCare.gov Names Counihan Its First CEO

Kevin Counihan, who ran Connecticut's successful state-based health insurance exchange, becomes HealthCare.gov's leader.

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Nearly a year after its launch, HealthCare.gov has its first-ever CEO.

On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced Kevin Counihan as Marketplace CEO of HealthCare.gov, the federal healthcare marketplace.

Counihan will run HealthCare.gov operations, manage relationships with state exchanges, and run the regulatory Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, according to a press release. He will report to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner.

Previously, Counihan served as CEO of Connecticut's health exchange, arguably the most successful of the state healthcare exchanges created by the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. As the release about his appointment points out: "Connecticut was the first state to surpass the goal for Affordable Care Act enrollees, and since 2012, the state's uninsured rate has been cut nearly in half -- from 7.9 percent to 4.0 percent."

Maryland is planning to use Connecticut's technology for the upcoming enrollment period, and several other states have contacted the state about using its platform.

[Would a national database be healthy for us? Read National Health Database: Good Medicine Or Privacy Nightmare?]

"Kevin is a great fit," Joel S. Ario told InformationWeek in a phone interview. Now a managing director at Manatt Health Solutions, an interdisciplinary policy and business advisory division of the law and consulting firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, Ario was the first director of the Office of Health Insurance Exchanges at the US Department of Health & Human Services, serving in 2010 and 2011.

Noting Counihan's experience in Connecticut and as a health insurance executive before that, Ario said Counihan "knows how to market insurance over the web."

Kevin Counihan(Source: Arielle Levin Becker/The Connecticut Mirror)
Kevin Counihan
(Source: Arielle Levin Becker/The Connecticut Mirror)

Marketing HealthCare.gov might be the least of Counihan's worries. Though the federal exchange has seemingly overcome the many technical snafus that plagued its launch last October, the second round of enrollments, starting Nov. 15, could stress the system.

"November will be rocky," Ario predicted. "It's a really daunting task to bring on another 6 or 8 million" people while retaining and renewing those already enrolled. Collectively, more than 8 million people have signed up through the state marketplaces and the federal site since their inception, according to the Obama administration's April tally.

While shepherding the next ACA open enrollment period, Counihan will need to work closely with the states operating their own healthcare marketplaces, a few of which have had their own technology crises. Cover Oregon, for example, said in April that it would shut down and send state residents instead to the federal HealthCare.gov site. Cover Oregon cited costs, including the expense of fixing the site before the next open-enrollment period in November, as among the reasons for the decision. That flop also precipitated Oregon's lawsuit against the contractor and software provider Oracle and a parallel lawsuit by Oracle against Oregon.

Along with consumers and states, the new HealthCare.gov CEO will need to work with commercial insurance companies, more of whom are involved than during the first open enrollment.

Meanwhile, CMS has yet to announce who will become HealthCare.gov's chief technology officer, reporting to CEO Counihan. The CTO position was announced in June.

The release about Counihan's appointment also disclosed that Tim Hughey of Accenture, the federal Marketplace system developer and maintainer, will continue to provide technology support to CMS throughout the next open enrollment. "He will focus on technology issues in the areas of systems architecture, tools, security, and networks across all contractors involved in the federal Marketplace," the release said.

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Ellis Booker has held senior editorial posts at a number of A-list IT publications, including UBM's InternetWeek, Mecklermedia's Web Week, and IDG's Computerworld. At Computerworld, he led Internet and electronic commerce coverage in the early days of the web and was ... View Full Bio

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Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Strategist
8/30/2014 | 11:46:28 PM
Re: About Time
What I meant by that was someone who understands how to get things done in the buracracy. If you work in one long enough, you build allies and understand back channels to get things done.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
8/29/2014 | 9:10:16 AM
Re: About Time
I am curious to get Jonathan Feldman's take on this issue. There's a lot more to being a gov IT leader than being a "lifer bureaucrat," of course.
Broadway0474
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50%
Broadway0474,
User Rank: Strategist
8/28/2014 | 10:25:59 PM
Re: About Time
Laurianne, that is a misconception. Surely, you can hire someone from outside government to come up with the strategy and how best to implement it, then lean on a lifer bureaucrat to get it through the maze.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
8/28/2014 | 5:19:28 PM
Re: About Time
A Connecticut Yankee comes to King Obama's court. The insurance capital comes to the nation's rescue.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
8/28/2014 | 2:30:23 PM
Re: About Time
Someone without any government IT background? That seems unlikely here. Navigating agency politics is a particular skill. That doesn't mean you can't be an entrpreneurial person...
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
8/28/2014 | 9:57:34 AM
Ongoing Debacle
Just read this morning that at least 310,000 HealthCare.gov users risk losing their coverage because of yet another glitch in the website. Apparently they have to resubmit (often for yet another time) proof of citizenship or immigration status because the site keeps losing their documentation, many publications reported. CMS sent letters to 310K people, ordering them to send the documentation by Sept. 5 -- but agents and navigators say many of these folk already supplied the required info. And many who are trying to resend it, cannot get the system to accept the paperwork -- putting users' insurance at risk. 

Many can't even access their accounts because their passwords were changed in April after a security threat. Yet another debacle and it isn't even the November enrollment period yet. Sigh.
Jeff Jerome
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Jeff Jerome,
User Rank: Ninja
8/27/2014 | 10:43:35 PM
Re: About Time now for the CTO, that would be scary
So after spending 1.7 billion dollars on the web site which is a ridiculous amount of money for a limited function tool.  I wonder what the C-Suite compensation package will be and will it feature diversity?  Maybe they can bring in Lois Lerner to round it all out.
Broadway0474
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50%
Broadway0474,
User Rank: Strategist
8/27/2014 | 9:25:47 PM
Re: About Time
And while they are filling that CTO position fast, perhaps they need to also hire from outside. Someone NOT in government. Instead, someone who can bring the latest understanding from the for-profit world to bear in public service.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
8/27/2014 | 5:26:39 PM
About Time
It's struck me as odd for a long time that HealthCare.gov didn't have its own c-suite and management team separate from HHS, given its importance to Obama and his administration. The government should find a CTO really fast and give that CTO the full platter of responsibilities and authority to ensure the site has fewer problems this enrollment period. People still have lots of questions and skeptics aren't appeased; any big technology snafus aren't going to sit well. Counihan sounds like one of the few people able to handle this job!
Research: Healthcare IT Priorities
Research: Healthcare IT Priorities
Meeting regulatory requirements barely inched out managing digital patient data as the top priority for our 363 healthcare provider IT pros.
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