Head of Access Health CT to Leave for Federal Job

Aug 26, 2014

With open enrollment for the next round of the Affordable Care Act just three months away, the Department of Health and Human Services has a picked a new CEO for healthcare.gov, and he comes from Connecticut.  

Kevin Counihan currently runs Connecticut's insurance marketplace, and he won praise for the success of Access Health CT.  Backers point to the numbers. The state enrolled nearly 257,000 people in 2014, and of them, more than half were previously uninsured.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced the move Tuesday, and Counihan spoke to reporters. "One of the most important things we did is we showed that government can work," he said. "It can take on a highly complex social program and succeed."

Succeeding in Washington will be tougher than it was in Connecticut, though. Healthcare.gov serves 36 states, many of them with politicians openly hostile to the Affordable Care Act.

Counihan said he's aware of that. "I'm fundamentally very optimistic that people really want to do the right thing and that people understand intuitively that having people uninsured is not right for them or right for the country," he said.  "Now, how we go about doing it -- people can debate and there can be solid policy differences. But I'm fundamentally very optimistic that, even though there are some big ideological schisms, that those can be bridged."

Governor Dannel Malloy had nice things to say about Counihan. "Let me begin by congratulating Kevin on his new position," he said. "I'm very proud of him and very happy for him, although going to Washington... you should have your head examined."

Counihan caught the attention of President Obama a year or so ago during a conference call with the leaders of the state-based exchanges. Not long before, Counihan and his team were marketing Connecticut's exchange at a Lil Wayne concert. 

"He said, 'Lil Wayne. I've never been to a Lil Wayne concert,'" Counihan recalled.  "And I said, 'Well, Mr. President, neither [had] I, and I don't think I'm exactly in the target demographic. But I got my picture taken.' And he said, 'That's fantastic! Would you send it to me?' And I said, 'Our daughter has promised that it will never see the light of day.'"

The state said it will conduct a national search for Counihan's replacement.