A group of health insurance experts assembled by Gov. Henry McMaster to find a new Medicaid director doesn’t expect to move very quickly.
For one, the Legislature likely will adjourn before the Senate can confirm a candidate — a necessary step in the process. “If you look at probability, confirmation won’t take place until January,” said Thorton Kirby, a member of the search committee and president of the S.C. Hospital Association.
Meanwhile, several other states are also searching for Medicaid directors, and out-of-state candidates may be less likely to relocate to South Carolina because a new governor could be elected next year.
“(In January), we’re only going to be about 10 months away from the election,” Kirby said. It would be hard to convince a family to move to South Carolina for a potentially short-term post, he said, and the group likely will focus on candidates already here.
The S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, commonly called the state Medicaid agency, spends about $7 billion a year and offers Medicaid benefits to roughly 1 million people in this state, most of them children.
Former Medicaid Director Christian Soura left the agency in early April for a job as vice president of policy and finance under Kirby at the Hospital Association. Deputy Medicaid Director Deirdra Singleton is serving as acting director.
Meanwhile, as Congress contemplates overhauling the Medicaid program by adding work requirements and changing how much federal money flows to states, the search committee in South Carolina is moving forward with its charge.
The group also includes Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Easley, who chairs the Health and Human Services Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee; Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, who owns a medical device company and chairs the Healthcare Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee; Jim Ritchie, the executive director of the S.C. Alliance of Health Plans and a former Republican state lawmaker, whose trade group represents health insurance companies in the state; and Tricia Richardson, the executive director of SC Thrive, whose group helps South Carolinians enroll in Medicaid policies.
Sue Berkowitz, executive director of S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice, acknowledged that the lawmakers on the panel “know the Medicaid program better than anyone in the Legislature,” but she questioned if patients who depend on Medicaid are adequately represented.
Hospitals and insurance companies, which receive billions of dollars from Medicaid each year, stand to benefit from choosing the new director, she said, but even SC Thrive receives money from the agency. Medicaid spokeswoman Colleen Mullis confirmed that SC Thrive was paid more than $2 million by the department last year.
“Everybody who sits on there represents someone who has financial interests in getting Medicaid dollars,” Berkowitz said. “Is that arms-length enough?”
Ritchie, a member of the group, said he believes McMaster did “a fine job providing a diverse set of viewpoints to serve on the committee.” Others agreed.
Teresa Arnold, executive director of AARP South Carolina, was not appointed to the advisory group but appreciates its mission. “I’m glad they have a search committee,” she said, “because they don’t always do that.”
Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, called such committees common across the country.
“It’s one of the most important jobs in state government,” Salo said. “You really want to make sure you get the broadest sampling of candidates.”