WASHINGTON BUREAU — Joel Ario, director of the Office of Insurance Exchanges at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), seems to be leaving that post.

Steve Larsen, the director of the Center for Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) at HHS, will work with Ario’s deputy, Tim Hill, to manage the exchange development effort, according to a copy of what appears to be an internal memo sent by Larsen to CCIIO employees.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) requires state and federal agencies to set up the exchanges by 2014. The exchanges are supposed to help individuals and small employers use new tax credit programs created by PPACA to buy health coverage.

Ario will be moving back to Hershey, Pa., Aug. 26 “to be with his family,” Larsen says in the memo.

Although Ario will be leaving Washington in August, he will continue to lead the exchange team until Sept. 23, Ario says.

“Tim and I will work together to recruit a state liaison to ensure that states continue to have a direct point of contact as we work together to successfully implement exchanges,” Larsen says.

Alabama state Rep. Greg Wren, R-Montgomery, Ala., has expressed concern about Ario’s departure, saying it “causes the states again to have to pause at a time when we’re working feverishly … to understand the mandates under the PPACA.”

Wren led an unsuccessful effort this year to get the Alabama Legislature to pass exchange implementation legislation.

Wren is on the board of the National Conference of Insurance Legislators, Troy, N.Y., and co-chairman of the Health Reform Implementation Task Force at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Denver.

Wren says state officials had hoped HHS would provide guidance on the exchange regulation it released July 11.

“We don’t have any clear directions from HHS, and here it is Aug. 1, and now we see a departure by Joel Ario,” Wren says.

Wren says he plans to call on HHS to declare a “time out” and “invite the states to Washington” to get on the same page about exchanges during the upcoming NCSL meeting in San Antonio, which is set to start Monday.

Ario moved to HHS in 2009 from a post as insurance commissioner of Pennsylvania. He also formerly served as insurance commissioner of Oregon.

Other Joel Ario coverage from National Underwriter Life & Health: