Washington Health Policy Week in Review

Washington Health Policy Week in Review is a weekly newsletter that offers selected stories from the daily newsletter CQ HealthBeat.

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Cohen Returning to CMS to Run CCIIO

By John Reichard, CQ HealthBeat Editor

August 17, 2012 -- Gary Cohen is returning to the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS) to run a top health care law implementation post at the agency, the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CIIO).

Cohen has been serving as chief counsel to the California Health Benefit Exchange Board, one of the more advanced state attempts at creating the new insurance exchange marketplaces that will open in late 2013 under the health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152).

Michael Hash, who has been serving as interim director after Steve Larsen left the job in June, will return to his post as director of the Office of Health Reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

"We can't thank him enough for his leadership and insight over the past few month," said acting CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner in an email to CMS staff obtained by HealthBeat.

Before leaving to take the California job, Cohen, a Stanford Law graduate, was head of CCIIO's oversight group, which oversaw the medical loss ratio (MLR) rules and rate review functions. The naming of Cohen gives the Obama administration a seasoned hand in a key post at a crucial stage of the health care overhaul implementation efforts.

Cohen originally joined CCIIO shortly after its formation, serving first as deputy of the oversight group and then as director. He ran the shop during a period of intense activity implementing MLR and rate review regulations and only left for the California post a few months ago.

Cohen also has experience as a state regulator and on Capitol Hill. He served as deputy California insurance commissioner and was chief of staff to Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif.

Larsen's departure as head of CCIIO created a big hole on the CMS leadership team at a time when the formation of insurance exchanges entered a key phase. Since the health care overhaul became law, the exchange implementation effort has seen several management changes. Joel Ario ran the early part of the project. Larsen then stepped in, but he departed CMS to join UnitedHealth Group.

Cohen also will serve as deputy administrator.

Larsen also had that title when he ran CCIIO. Several other top CMS officials have the deputy title, too: Cindy Mann, who directs the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services; Jon Blum, who heads the Center for Medicare; Peter Budetti, who runs the Center for Program Integrity; and Anthony Rodgers, who directs the Center for Strategic Planning.

Tavenner said two other officials would serve on the CCIIO management team along with Cohen. "I have asked Tim Hill to continue in his deputy director role for CCIIO with a focus on policy and regulation development," she said. Tavenner added that Jim Kerr, administrator of the Consortium of Health Plan Operations at CMS, will join CCIIO as deputy director for operations. As head of the consortium, Kerr oversees 750 CMS contracts with Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plans.

"I know that the executive leadership team of Gary, Tim, and Jim will ensure we successfully meet the goal of providing insurance to all Americans," Tavenner said.

During Kerr's stint at CCIIO, Nancy O'Connor, the CMS regional administrator in Philadelphia, will step in as deputy consortium administrator.