Gary Cohen Selected as New Director Of HHS Insurance Oversight Office

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Gary Cohen, who left the Department of Health and Human Services office in charge of implementing health insurance reform in April to join California's health insurance exchange, is returning to HHS to direct the unit, an official with knowledge of the matter told BNA Aug. 17.

HHS and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services officials did not return queries from BNA for comment.

Cohen will join CMS this month as deputy administrator of CMS, and director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) within CMS, according to a memo acting CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner sent to staff.

Cohen will replace Steve Larsen, who left CCIIO in mid-July to be executive vice president of Optum, a health services and information technology company that is part of UnitedHealth Group Inc., of Minnetonka, Minn. (see previous article). Mike Hash, director of HHS's Office of Health Reform, has been interim director of CCIIO and will remain as director of the Office of Health Reform, the memo said.

Leading Implementation of PPACA Component.

Cohen joined the California Health Benefit Exchange as chief counsel in April, after serving as director of CCIIO's Oversight Group. The undated memo from Tavenner said he will “lead the implementation of a major component of the [Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)].” HHS is to certify whether states that apply to operate their own online health insurance exchange markets under PPACA are ready to do so by Jan. 1, 2013. The exchanges are to be in operation in all states by 2014. HHS will create a “federally facilitated exchange” in states that do not operate their own exchanges in 2014.

As legal adviser to the California exchange, which that state is creating to implement PPACA, Cohen provided policy guidance and legal counsel on “matters pertaining to the exchange, its programs and operations,” the memo said. In his previous job as director of CCIIO's Oversight Group, Cohen's responsibilities included implementation, compliance, and enforcement of market rules, the medical loss ratio requirement governing how much insurance plans must spend on medical claims, and rate review provisions, Tavenner's memo said.

Cohen also served as deputy commissioner and general counsel to the California Department of Insurance, and chief of staff to Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who was California insurance commissioner from 1991 to 1995, Tavenner's memo said. Cohen was also general counsel of the California Public Utilities Commission.

Tavenner said in the memo that Tim Hill will continue as deputy director for CCIIO with a focus on policy and regulation development, “as well as helping Gary chart the future of the Center.”

Jim Kerr will join CCIIO temporarily as deputy director for operations, Tavenner said in the memo. Kerr has been consortia administrator for Medicare Health Plan Operations (MHPO), it said. Nancy O'Connor, regional administrator in Philadelphia, will perform the duties of deputy consortium administrator for Medicare Health Plan Operations while Kerr is detailed to CCIIO, it said. She will be assisted by Julie Kennedy, associate regional administrator of MHPO in Dallas, on product line issues, it said.

By Sara Hansard  

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