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One-Time Mass. Health Official Heads Conn. Exchange

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A California health care expert who played an early role in Massachusetts’ revamped health care system has been appointed by Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as chief executive of a new state health care agency.

The appointment of Kevin J. Counihan to lead the Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange was announced Thursday.

Health exchanges, which essentially are marketplaces where consumers can comparison shop for insurance plans, are intended to bring down prices and get more people insured.

Counihan said his priorities will be to get the exchange running in 2014 and have a user-friendly website ready by October 2013.

He was vice president of CIGNA and president of Choice Administrators Exchange Solutions, an Orange, Calif., private health insurance exchange that administers health care programs for employers.

From 2006 to 2011, Counihan was chief marketing officer for the Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector Authority, which administers that state’s health insurance exchange.

The Connecticut health exchange was enacted by the legislature and signed into law by Malloy last year. Its job is to certify, recertify and decertify health benefit plans, provide enrollment periods, maintain a website offering standardized comparative information on health plans and screen applications to determine eligibility for Medicaid, the state Children’s Health Insurance Program or other state public insurance programs and enroll eligible applicants.

State Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri says the health exchange is seeking nearly $109 million from Washington, D.C., to operate through 2014.

Also on Thursday, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee appointed a former Massachusetts health official to lead Rhode Island’s new health benefits exchange. He tapped Christine Ferguson, who was Rhode Island’s human services director from 1995 to 2001 and Massachusetts’ public health commissioner under former Gov. Mitt Romney.

Because Massachusetts was the first state to enact a public health insurance system, it was a marker for the federal Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010, Counihan said.

“Clearly, it served as a blueprint for ACA,” he said.

Counihan would not speculate about what might happen to state health exchanges if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down portions of the federal law or all of it. The court is expected to act before the end of the month.

“It’s just way, way early to see what happens until the justices issue their decision,” he said.

Veltri said Counihan’s priorities are to build relationships with consumers, the uninsured, doctors, hospitals, health care advocates and others.

“His highest priorities are to get up to speed so far on what’s going on in Connecticut,” she said.

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