New health insurance director on tight deadline

Crain’s Chicago Business reports:

Job: Director of the Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace, an online shopping site for individual and small-group health insurance plans, full-time since January.

Vitals: 42 years old; bachelor’s degree, Loyola University Chicago, 1993; juris doctor, Loyola’s School of Law, 1997; law clerk to Illinois Appellate Court Justice Margaret O’Mara Frossard, Chicago, 1999-2000; assistant counsel to Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, Chicago and Springfield, 1998 and 2000; chief of staff for Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley, Chicago, 2000-06; chief of policy for Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, Chicago, 2006-07; director of government and labor relations, Office of the Transitional Administrator of the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, Chicago, 2007-09; deputy general counsel for Gov. Pat Quinn, in Chicago and Springfield, 2009-11; chief of staff, Gov. Quinn’s Office of Legislative Affairs, Chicago and Springfield, 2011-13.


Strong suit: Fifteen years of experience in all branches of state government — judicial, legislative and executive. “I would say my biggest asset is the ability to navigate government,” she said.


Track record: In her last post with Cook County, she was on the management team that instituted major reforms at the county’s juvenile detention center, including the hiring of a nationally known juvenile justice expert as administrator. “She not only gets in the weeds on policy, but she has an understanding of the ways to get things done politically,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, D- Chicago.


Resume gap: Has never implemented a major federal program like the health insurance marketplace. Ms. Koehler is leading the effort, as part of President Barack Obama’s health reform law, to set up an online benefits exchange in partnership with the federal government that will market insurance plans to small businesses and an estimated 486,000 individual Illinoisans.


Job one: “We actually have multiple ‘job ones’ because of the tight time frame we’re under,” Ms. Koehler said. Before open enrollment starts on Oct. 1, Ms. Koehler and her staff must approve hundreds of health plans to be sold in the marketplace by up to 16 carriers. They also must spread the word about the marketplace to the uninsured Illinoisans who will need to have insurance by Jan. 1.


Obstacle: Lack of awareness. According to Woonsocket, R.I.-based pharmacy company CVS Caremark Corp., 78 percent of people across the country who will be eligible for coverage subsidies under the health law have never heard of the exchanges.


The plan: Meeting federal deadlines for setting up the marketplace and strengthening ties with nonprofit groups around Illinois that will direct the communities they serve to the exchanges. “There’s a lot of awareness that we need to raise in a short period of time,” Ms. Koehler said.”