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

Ellis Booker, Technology Journalist

August 27, 2014

3 Min Read
Kevin Counihan<br />(Source: Arielle Levin Becker/The Connecticut Mirror)

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Nearly a year after its launch, 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, the federal healthcare marketplace.

Counihan will run 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.

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"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."


Marketing 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 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 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'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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About the Author(s)

Ellis Booker

Technology Journalist

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 responsible for creating its weekly Internet Page. Most recently, he was editor-in-chief of Crain Communication Inc.’s BtoB, the only magazine devoted to covering the intersection of business strategy and business marketing. He ran BtoB, as well as its sister title Media Business, for a decade. He is based in Evanston, Ill.

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