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Former Healthcare.gov CEO joins insurer betting big on Obamacare

Florida Insurance Company Enrolls People In Obama's Affordable Health Care Plan Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

One of the Obama administration’s top health care officials has joined an insurance company that is betting big on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces.

Kevin Counihan worked in the Obama administration as the chief executive of Healthcare.gov, overseeing the federal insurance marketplace that covers 36 states, from August 2014 through January 2017. Counihan has now joined Centene, an insurance company that has doubled down on the health insurance marketplaces at the moment others have fled.

A Centene spokesperson confirmed that Counihan had joined the company, and that he would be focused on the company’s Midwestern book of business.

Centene has been notably bullish on the Affordable Care Act marketplaces. The health insurer had traditionally focused on helping states manage their Medicaid programs but, with Obamacare’s launch, began to branch out into the individual market.

Notably, the insurer hasn’t been scared off by the recent uncertainty around the health law, and has actually raised its hand to sell coverage in areas of the country where other insurers won’t. In June, Centene announced it would expand into three new states: Kansas, Missouri, and Nevada. In Missouri alone, the plan volunteered to cover 25 counties with no health insurance options after the local Blue Cross plan quit the marketplace.

Centene also plans to “expand its footprint” in the six states where it already sells coverage: Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Texas, and Washington.

"Centene recognizes there is uncertainty of new health care legislation, but we are well-positioned to continue providing accessible, high-quality and culturally sensitive health care services to our members," Centene chief executive Michael Neidorff said at the time of the expansion.

Other former Obama administration officials have moved into the world of advocacy to organize protests against the repeal threats. This includes Andy Slavitt, Obama’s former Medicare chief who has become a vociferous critic of repeal and replace.

Counihan appears to be taking a different route: joining a health plan that is helping strengthen the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, and betting that Centene can succeed in tumultuous times.

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  • I did an in-depth interview with Counihan in June 2014, when he was still running the Connecticut marketplace (prior to taking the reins at Healthcare.gov). Counihan was more honest than most about the challenges in building the marketplaces in such a short time frame. "This is a two- to three-year implementation we're doing in 10 months," Counihan told me at the time. "I wish we had one more year." Read the interview here.
  • Samantha Liss at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been doing great coverage of Centene, which is a St. Louis-based insurance plan, and their expansion into the ACA marketplaces. Read her latest story here.