FRANKFORT — State Medicaid Commissioner Elizabeth Johnson is leaving her job at the cash-strapped health insurance program Sept. 30 to join a Lexington law firm.
The state Cabinet for Health and Family Services confirmed the departure Tuesday morning and said Deputy Commissioner Neville Wise will be appointed acting commissioner.
A news release from the cabinet said Johnson has accepted a position to practice law with a Lexington firm. Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Beshear, said Beshear was not involved in any way in Johnson's landing a job with his former law firm, Stites & Harbison.
It is not clear what effect, if any, Johnson's departure will have on a special task force Gov. Steve Beshear put in place to come up with recommendations to address financial problems in Medicaid.
Beshear announced earlier this month the state Medicaid budget faces a $470 million shortfall. About 800,000 poor and disabled Kentuckians depend on the $6 billion program for health insurance.
He said the state will not get as much federal funding for the program as expected.
Beshear said the state budget approved this year by the General Assembly assumed the federal government would provide an additional $238 million for Medicaid. Congress did provide additional money to help the states last month, but Kentucky will receive $137 million — about 58 percent of what was expected, he said.
That leaves a $111 million hole, Beshear said. Since funding for Medicaid is matched by the federal government on a roughly 4-to-1 basis, the gap represents a $470 million total program shortfall, the Democratic governor said.
Tuesday's news release said the cabinet plans to conduct a national search for a new commissioner of the department.
The cabinet will seek a commissioner "who can build leadership and capacity to lead Medicaid reforms, including quality improvement efforts, delivery system and payment reform, as well as development of effective models of coordinated care," the release said.
"On behalf of Gov. Beshear and the Cabinet, I would like to thank Betsy for her years of service and dedication to the commonwealth," said Janie Miller, secretary of the cabinet. "We wish her and her family well."
Johnson was named state Medicaid commissioner in January 2008. She formerly was deputy commissioner of the state Department for Employee Insurance.
She previously served as a legislative committee analyst with the Legislative Research Commission. She also served as counsel for the Kentucky Department of Insurance for six years.