As the leader of Gov. Matt Bevin’s effort to transform Medicaid, Mark Birdwhistell will get a chance to take up where he left off in the last Republican administration.
The Kentucky Medicaid reforms that won approval under Birdwhistell’s leadership 10 years ago emphasized prevention, wellness and controlling the over-prescribing of drugs, all of which should still be priorities.
The stakes are even higher now: Almost twice as many Kentuckians are covered by Medicaid and states have greater flexibility to innovate — both changes made possible by the federal Affordable Care Act.
Those who feared that Bevin would abruptly cut back health care for the 1.3 million Kentuckians covered by Medicaid can be relieved by the planning process that he outlined Wednesday.
Birdwhistell, UK HealthCare’s vice president for administration and external affairs, will lead the redesign effort with a goal of launching changes in 2017 after winning federal approval. (Birdwhistell is on loan to state government from the University of Kentucky.)
It also was encouraging to hear the new governor say that his overarching goal is better health outcomes for Kentuckians. Nothing could be more important in a state that leads the nation in cancer deaths and preventable hospitalizations and where diabetes is on the rise.
Getting more Kentuckians healthy and able is critical to Bevin’s goal of increasing participation in the workforce and attracting new employers.
Birdwhistell, who has also worked in Democratic administrations, wisely promised to involve stakeholders in the Medicaid redesign process. Medicaid is a complicated and vital part of Kentucky’s health care and economy and a big expense for state government. Getting this right could pay real dividends.