As Kevin Counihan takes the reigns as the “Obamacare CEO” of and as we all gear up for open enrollment, Community Catalyst hopes that the Federally-facilitated Marketplace, HealthCare.Gov, will run as smoothly this year as AccessHealthCT did under Counihan’s leadership. Connecticut achieved the 7th best enrollment in the nation, signing up more than 79,000 residents for private insurance last year. The key to this success largely was the Marketplace’s consumer-centric approach, which focused on some key principles: 

1. Prioritizing Consumer Assistance: Counihan knows from his experience in Connecticut and Massachusetts that once the website is open to the public for enrollment, his job will just be beginning. Responding to consumers’ experience on HealthCare.Gov and helping consumers navigate enrollment will be integral. Success in the first open enrollment period in Connecticut flowed from strong consumer assistance. For example, when the Call Center was overwhelmed by many more inquiries than initially expected, AccessHealthCT prioritized increasing the number of staff at the Call Centers to make sure consumers could readily access the enrollment assistance they needed, which contributed to enrollment numbers that far exceeded initial expectations.

2. Data matters: Collecting real-time data to support outreach and enrollment efforts allowed AccessHealthCT to monitor successes and failures, especially in ensuring that communities of color were gaining health coverage. Counihan also prioritized follow-up data collection, hiring a consultant to do a two-part telephone survey of  more than 6,000 enrollees to learn what went well and how to improve the consumer experience going forward. This data collection promoted health equity, an important state priority, by keeping track of coverage trends and consumer experiences for communities of color.

3. Ease of Use: Counihan prioritized making the site easy-to-use rather than rushing to incorporate overly advanced features. He explained to Sarah Kliff at Vox, “Whenever we would make a decision, we would ask ‘How does this impact consumers’ ease and simplicity?’ If it added simplicity, it got accelerated. If it was something that didn’t, it got cascaded down the list.”

4. Transparency: Throughout his career, Counihan has been committed to transparency. In running Connecticut’s Marketplace, he invited consumers’ voices into the policy discussions wherever possible. AccessHealthCT hosted regular “Healthy Chat” sessions across the state, where consumers could ask questions, voice concerns, and have a dialogue with Marketplace staff and board members. The Marketplace’s monthly board meetings were also open to the public and were broadcasted on Connecticut Television News, allowing consumers access to decision-making processes that would ultimately impact their enrollment experience and insurance options.

Kevin Counihan proved to be a successful health care leader by putting consumers first in many aspects of AccessHealthCT, and we ask that he does so again now with the HealthCare.Gov. As we enter the next open enrollment period, Community Catalyst looks forward to working with Counihan to make sure all consumers have the greatest level of transparency and choice in selecting high quality health coverage for themselves and their families.