U.S. Health Insurance Regulator Gary Cohen to Resign

Gary Cohen, the top U.S. health insurance regulator accused by congressional Republicans of misleading them before the troubled start of the Obamacare insurance website, will resign.

Cohen will step down as director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the end of the month, when the first enrollment period for the health-care law concludes, Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Cohen’s boss, said yesterday in an e-mail to employees. Cohen’s office is part of Tavenner’s agency.

Cohen and Tavenner said his departure is voluntary. His agency devised the regulations for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges, though it wasn’t responsible for building healthcare.gov, the federal exchange that failed in October, leaving millions of Americans unable to enroll in health plans. Cohen’s office also monitors insurers’ premiums and enforces consumer protections under the health law.

“Under his leadership, CCIIO established the rules which have made the promise of the Affordable Care Act a reality for millions of Americans who now can have the security of health coverage without regard to their previous health condition, and can know that their insurance will cover all the most common services they will need,” Tavenner said.

Temporary Successor

Cohen will be replaced on an interim basis by Mandy Cohen, a medical doctor who manages consumer assistance for the agency, Tavenner said. His departure was reported yesterday by Politico.

Cohen was an attorney, an insurance executive and an insurance regulator in California before taking over the federal agency in August 2012. He said the difficult start for the Affordable Care Act isn’t the cause of his departure.

“It really doesn’t have anything to do with the rollout,” he told reporters today at an insurance industry conference in Washington. “I’ve been planning to get back home for a while and this just seemed like a good time to do it.”

Representative Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican, told the U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during a hearing Oct. 30 that she should ask for Cohen’s resignation. He had “misled” Congress in testimony prior to the Oct. 1 opening of the federal health insurance exchange website, Burgess said, by insisting that any problems would be minor and the project was largely on schedule.

Sebelius Response

Sebelius refused, telling lawmakers to “hold me accountable” for healthcare.gov’s failures.

Cohen maintained good relationships with health insurers even as President Barack Obama and Sebelius occasionally used them as public scapegoats for problems in the health-care system. Karen Ignagni, the president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the lobby group hosting the conference where Cohen spoke today, said he had “done a very good job” implementing the law’s insurance regulations.

“We really appreciate your leadership, we appreciate your thoughtfulness, and I suspect we’ll continue to work with you in some capacity,” she told him.

Cohen said he hasn’t begun looking for a new job in part because of federal conflict-of-interest rules that would make it difficult to interview for positions in the health-care industry while he still works for the government.

“I’m really focused on finishing this job,” he said. “I haven’t actually thought much about the next job.”