We created The Closing Bell last spring after we figured out staffers, contributors and insiders were sitting on too much news that couldn’t wait for the Monday Business Briefing. Since then, TCB has become one of our best-read features.

This week we have a mixed bag of biz news: First up, something good to report…

Head of Kynect honored as a public official of the year


The magazine and website Governing has named a Kentucky official as one of its 2014 Public Officials of the Year: Carrie Banahan, executive director for the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange, aka, Kynect, aka the Affordable Care Act, and Kentucky’s Obamacare.

The article, written by Chris Kardish, notes the rollout of the federal HealthCare.gov was a disaster, as users were met with site crashes and long wait times. It was a similar story for many of the states that launched their own sites.

“But one of the few states that got everything right was Kentucky,” Kardish writes. “And that’s due to the work of Carrie Banahan.”

Banahan has been in Kentucky state government 32 years and was a perfect choice to coordinate the many moving parts of creating this exchange, the article says. She had been deputy commissioner of the Departments of Insurance, and later was deputy Medicaid commissioner before becoming Gov. Steve Beshear’s chief health policy advisor.

Kynect went live in October 2013, and at the time Kentucky was the only Southern state with its own health exchange, and one of only two that expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Essentially, Kynect did what it was supposed to do, putting it in stark contrast to the flailing national website. By the end of enrollment, about 413,000 Kentuckians had signed up.

Why’d it work? The article says Kentucky opted for simplicity, allowing users to browse plans without signing up; many other states made more sophisticated interfaces that were more prone to errors. Also Kentucky integrated Medicaid and private insurance enrollment under one platform, which helped the state avoid the sort of backlogs that plagued other states.

Buchanan pitched the program across the state, familiarizing potential users with it. She also kept a close eye on the contractors tasked with making it work.

And it did.

Local entrepreneur launches bottled water especially for bourbon

unnamedMaster distillers would never use tap water to make Kentucky Bourbon, and there are many reasons for that, including iron content and harshness that disrupts the flavor profile.

So, local author turned entrepreneur Doug Keeney has launched Branch Water – a bottled water product that brings the limestone-based water used by Kentucky distillers to bourbon drinkers. The product recently went on sale and will soon be landing in stores around Louisville and the state.

Currently, Branch Water can be found on Amazon. Insider Louisville talked with Keeney about his new venture and how it came to be. Look for full coverage later today.