Such shopping sites are the centerpiece of President Obama's health care overhaul. And many states are looking to Utah and Massachusetts for guidance on how to design them.
"It's an awkward time not to have leadership there," said Lincoln Nehring, a health policy analyst at Voices for Utah Children. "Patty is going to be asked to do a lot."
Conner did not immediately respond to requests for an interview on Monday.
In a statement announcing her appointment, Spence Eccles, director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, praised her "extensive knowledge" of health safety net programs such as Medicaid and her track record of collaborating with insurance carriers and brokers.
Conner was senior manager of the Health and Welfare Relationship Management team at Ceridian for seven years. Before joining Ceridian, she worked in management positions for Health Benefits America and employee benefit company ADP. She has a degree in business with an emphasis on management and human resources from the University of Montana and special certifications from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
At a recent legislative hearing, Conner's predecessor hinted at some of the challenges ahead.
Utah officials describe the exchange as the "Travelocity of health insurance."
Plagued by low enrollment, the portal celebrated its first full launch this fall, anticipating 3,000 small employers would sign up, bringing with them 40,000 employees.
But as of Dec. 7, enrollment remained at last year's levels when it was being tested on a limited number of businesses about 436 customers, reported Spencer.
About 150 small businesses have signed up, but only 43 were approved as eligible. And glitches and problems navigating the website caused delays in pricing their plans.