Gov. Dannel P. Malloy tapped the administrator who helped implement the nation’s first health care reform law in Massachusetts to lead Connecticut’s effort to establish a health care exchange.

Kevin J. Counihan, who also was president of a private health care exchange in California, was presented by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman at Thursday morning’s meeting of the Connecticut exchange’s board of directors.

“Kevin has proven that he is a real leader who can work equally well with consumers and insurance carriers to create quality health coverage,” said Wyman, who is chairwoman of the exchange board. “I have full confidence that he will not only expertly guide the exchange, but will connect with all stakeholders in shaping Connecticut’s reform plan.”

An exchange is a set of state-regulated health plans from which individuals and small businesses can buy coverage with the assistance of federal subsidies.

All states must have exchanges operational and federally certified by Jan. 1, 2014, under the national health care reform legislation enacted two years ago. But that legislation is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, which will rule late this week or early next week.

“I am delighted and honored to be part of the team implementing Connecticut’s insurance exchange, and I look forward to the mission of providing more affordable health coverage options to all state residents and small businesses,” said Counihan, who starts as chief executive officer of the health exchange July 3.

Malloy chose Counihan, who has more than 30 years of experience in the health care and health insurance fields, from a nationwide pool of 75 candidates.

The new CEO most recently was president of Choice Administrators Exchange Solutions in Orange, Calif., which helps states create exchanges under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Counihan served as chief marketing officer for the Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector Authority, which administers that state’s health insurance exchange.

Counihan also was a sales and marketing executive for Tufts Health Plan of Massachusetts from 1993 to 2005, and was a regional vice president for CIGNA of Bloomfield from 1990 to 1993. He also has served as an adjunct professor of health policy at Northeastern University in Boston since 2009.

“Kevin stood out for the breadth of his experience in developing exchanges, his mastery of health care reform issues and challenges and his team-building abilities,” said Victoria Veltri, the state healthcare advocate and co-chairwoman of the exchange board’s search committee.

Counihan will earn $225,000 per year in his new job.

The Connecticut legislature authorized the state’s health exchange in 2011, creating a 14-member board with representatives from health care, business, consumer advocacy and insurance communities to oversee the effort.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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