Health insurance exchanges chief to step down

WASHINGTON Tue Aug 2, 2011 2:41pm EDT

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius (C) takes part in a meeting with health insurance company executives and related industry officials in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, March 4, 2010. With Sebelius are (L-R) Chairman and CEO of Aetna, Ron Williams, Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Joel Ario and West Virginia Insurance Commissioner Jane Cline. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius (C) takes part in a meeting with health insurance company executives and related industry officials in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, March 4, 2010. With Sebelius are (L-R) Chairman and CEO of Aetna, Ron Williams, Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Joel Ario and West Virginia Insurance Commissioner Jane Cline.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The man charged with overseeing the creation of U.S. state-based health insurance exchanges is stepping down, according to a senior U.S. health official.

News reports trickled out early Tuesday that Joel Ario, director of health insurance exchanges at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is leaving his job.

"Exchange planning will proceed as it has up till now," said Steve Larsen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight within the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

"We're going to have a smooth transition. He's not leaving tomorrow," Larsen told reporters after a hearing on Capitol Hill when asked about Ario's reported departure.

It remains unclear why and when Ario is leaving, or who will replace him.

Ario's departure comes at an important juncture for the Obama's administration's implementation of key component of the healthcare overhaul passed last year.

The idea behind the exchanges is to create easy access to an open marketplace of insurance plans and to allow uninsured people and small businesses to band together to negotiate for cheaper rates.

Ario joined HHS last year after serving as Pennsylvania's insurance commissioner since 2007.

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