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The agency that oversees the federal health care overhaul on Friday named a top Optum executive as its second-in-command as part of an Obama administration effort to bolster management and accountability before the November open enrollment.
Andy Slavitt, 47, will become principal deputy administrator at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and will oversee day-to-day agency program operations, according to the announcement. He will be responsible for integrating policy and operational coordination for the agency's Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP and insurance exchange initiatives.
During Slavitt's time at Optum, a unit of UnitedHealth Group Inc., the company has helped at least four states and the federal government work out technical problems with the Obamacare health exchanges, including in Minnesota.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced Slavitt's appointment Friday as well as a new management structure at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Slavitt joins the federal agency after more than 20 years in the private sector.
Thrivent Financial analyst David Heupel, who has been following UnitedHealth Group's rising influence in the health care marketplace, said the move is evidence that the once "combative attitude" toward the managed care industry is thawing under the need for data-driven decisions.
"The government is realizing that in order to fix the health care system — not just providing insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, but providing better products and services in all government-sponsored health plans — they're going to need the private sector's abilities to operate more effectively," Heupel said.
"Quite frankly, the Uniteds, the Aetnas and the WellPoints of the world can probably do a better job than the federal government as it relates to analyzing populations, predicting cost trends and providing a service that is effective both on a cost and a benefit basis."
Slavitt could not immediately be reached for comment, and a CMS spokesman said Slavitt would not be available to speak to the Star Tribune.
Marilyn Tavenner, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a statement that Slavitt will be a key part of the leadership team.
"Andy's breadth of experience throughout the health care sector makes him the right person for this role, and I am excited for our partnership across all of the CMS programs," she said.
At Eden Prairie-based Optum, Slavitt was the group executive vice president. He led the systems integration work and technology surge to fix the federal health insurance online shopping site, healthcare.gov, last year.
He came to UnitedHealth Group, the nation's largest insurer, in 2003, after UnitedHealth acquired Health Allies, which Slavitt founded and ran. Slavitt also has worked as a consultant with McKinsey & Co. and as an investment banker with Goldman Sachs.
Optum spokesman Brian Kane e-mailed a statement saying, "We are grateful to Andy for his contributions to Optum's success and are sad to see him go, but we know his skills, experience and integrity will serve CMS and the American people well."
Slavitt, who lives in Edina, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and earned a master of business administration degree from Harvard Business School.
Optum provided an end-to-end review of Minnesota's online insurance shopping site, MNsure, at no cost to taxpayers. MNsure executives are currently discussing hiring the company to help resolve problems processing about 6,000 applications for people whose insurance has changed because they got married, changed jobs, had a baby or because of some other life event.