Marina Owen

Marina Owen

Marina Owen has been named CEO of CenCal Health, effective Nov. 1, succeeding Bob Freeman, who is retiring after 28 years with the publicly funded health care program in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

As CEO of one of the first and oldest Medicaid-only managed care plans of its kind in the nation, Owen will be responsible for the overall strategic direction, management and administration of programs and services, while ensuring that CenCal Health fulfills its mission, goals and objectives.

Owen has 15 years of health plan management experience, most recently as COO at Central California Alliance for Health, based in Scotts Valley, California. There, she was responsible for enterprise-wide operations and executive leadership of member services, claims, project management, provider services, grievance, process improvement and regional operations.

As a CenCal Health alum, Owen previously served as its director, Provider Services and Community Engagement from 2008-17. She holds a bachelor of science degree in biology/biological sciences from UCSB, and furthered her training at UC Berkeley through the Executive Leadership Program. Owen becomes just the fourth CEO in CenCal Health’s 38-year history.

“I am honored to serve CenCal Health once again,” said Owen. “I look forward to partnering with our board, members, providers and community organizations to improve the health and wellness of our diverse communities and advance health equity in the future.” 

Freeman is credited with managing CenCal Health’s growth to a current membership of 205,000, in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, in addition to 60,000 Affordable Care Act members.

During Freeman’s tenure, a specialized pediatric unit was created to support Medi-Cal members who are also eligible for California Children’s Services, special health services for children and teens who have chronic medical conditions such as cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, cancer, and traumatic injuries.

Freeman also initiated an annual donation of $200,000 each to two local nonprofits for their senior nutrition programs serving low-income seniors in San Barbara and San Luis Obispo communities. Since 2016, the total contribution exceeds $2 million.

Freeman led an organization listed at the top of Best Places to Work on the Central Coast in the Pacific Coast Business Times’ annual survey. CenCal Health ranked No. 1 in 2019 and 2021, and No. 2 in 2020. Freeman also served on the Board of Directors of Pacific Central Coast Health Centers, and CommUnify (formerly Community Action Commission).

“When someone retires from an organization they’re very proud of, the one thing they want most is for that organization to continue its good work moving forward,” said Freeman. “I leave CenCal Health in a few weeks knowing the types of things we accomplished under my tenure will continue under Marina Owen.

“I have known and worked with Marina for almost 20 years. I leave the organization I love in very good hands.”

CenCal Health is a community-accountable health plan that partners with some 1,500 local physicians, hospitals and other providers in delivering patient care to more than 205,000 members. View its annual Community Report at