Access Health CT Seeking Federal Funds Directly For Expansion, CEO Says

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Connecticut is pursuing millions of dollars from the federal government — not Massachusetts — to offer its health-exchange technology to other states, the head of Connecticut’s health exchange said Tuesday.

Kevin Counihan, CEO of Access Health CT, said there was a time in 2012 when he asked for a portion of $44.5 million in federal grant money awarded to the University of Massachusetts Medical School. But that time has passed, and he is now seeking funds directly from the federal Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“We’re not going to get any money from Massachusetts,” Counihan said.

It wasn’t long after Counihan was hired that he sought what he believes is Connecticut’s $11 million portion of an “early innovator” grant awarded to a multi-state consortium headed by UMass Medical School.

In the fall of 2012, Counihan called Dr. Jay Himmelstein, chief policy strategist for UMass Medical School’s Center for Health Policy and Research.

“I said, ‘Hey, Jay, where’s our piece of the pie?’ And he laughed and he goes, ‘You’re not getting any,’” Counihan said.

Himmelstein explained that the money would not be divided, according to Counihan, but that Connecticut could use the code after it was developed by UMass Medical School.

“I said, ‘You’re further behind than we are. I don’t want your code. I’d like the cash. We could use the money for our own development,’” Counihan said.

Himmelstein reiterated that Connecticut would not receive any of the money, Counihan said, and the conversation ended.

Connecticut had already decided to build its own IT platform for its new health exchange even before Counihan was hired, Counihan said.

The federal government awarded two grants totaling $44.5 million in February 2011 and March 2012 to a multi-state New England consortium headed by UMass Medical School for the purpose of building an IT platform that each state could use.

On Friday, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who chairs the Access Health CT board of directors, said of the grant money, “It would be great for us because, right now, we are trying to build our system so we can help some other states that are asking for it.”

Wyman added, “Since it was regional, and since all the governors signed onto it, we would like just a portion of it so that we can do the good work that I think we should be doing to help other states out.”

On Tuesday, Wyman said in a statement, “Connecticut’s health care exchange is an excellent model with national import — sharing this technology has substantive benefits to other states and their residents. It would have been ideal to have this funding come through Washington originally, but we hope CMS will reconsider and authorize additional funding to Connecticut so we can market our model to other states.”

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About Matthew Sturdevant

Full-time staff journalist at The Hartford Courant and magazine freelancer with a master's degree in writing from Dartmouth. My work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, Taiwan News, The Baltimore Sun and many other news sources. My blog has been referenced by Politico.com, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Georgetown Law Library and a number of organizations in healthcare and business. Sturdevant’s blog is "a well-written wealth of ideas," said The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, (businessjournalism.org, May 18, 2011). I have experience writing for newspapers, magazines, Web sites and blogs as well as shooting and editing video. I made regular appearances on news-talk radio and on the NBC affiliate station in Corpus Christi, Texas. I made occasional appearances on the Fox affiliate in Connecticut promoting Hartford Courant articles.

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