Search for Missouri HealthNet director ends

Harvard doctor to head the state's new health care program.

Only six physicians in the world can claim to head state Medicaid programs. But later this fall, physician Ian McCaslin will become the seventh.

Last Thursday, Gov. Matt Blunt and Deborah Scott, Missouri Department of Social Services director, publicized McCaslin's official appointment as head of a new statewide Medicaid system, Missouri HealthNet.

McCaslin was a faculty member at Harvard Medical School and an attending physician at Children's Hospital Boston.

"Dr. McCaslin brings an abundance of expertise and experience to this very critical position," Blunt stated in a press release Thursday. "He is assuming this leadership position at a very exciting and critical time as we launch the new MO HealthNet program focused on health, wellness and prevention for our state's most vulnerable people. With his expertise as a physician and his public policy work in health care, he is the best person for this important position."

The state's old Medicaid program, the Division of Medical Services, will officially transition into HealthNet on Aug. 28.

The shift coincides with McCaslin's appointment, which will take effect some time after Labor Day and is projected for Sept. 10, according to Brian Kinkade, Deputy Director of the Missouri Department of Social Services.

"We've been seeking a director since winter," Kinkade said. "There was a very extensive nationwide search conducted to bring skills and qualities [to this position]. From top to bottom, we needed to get a good solid leader for the job."

According to Kinkade, McCaslin's extensive background in medicine and pediatrics makes him a good fit to launch HealthNet, a component of the Missouri Health Improvement Act of 2007, which the state legislature finalized last May.

The Chronic Care Improvement Program, among the earliest HealthNet plans, will increase the array of coordinative care available to Missourians by expanding coverage to include initial treatment of diseases and related procedures at a later time, which the previous system did not always cover.

Kinkade said the wrap-around and support of the initial serices were not there.

"There wasn't focus on making sure those services were most beneficial, maximizing health and well-being," Kinkade said. "In the long run, this should save the state money, spending health care money on preventative services."

Rep. Charles Portwood, R-Ballwin, who helped write the bill, projects that 4,000 disabled workers and 1,200 individuals in sheltered workshops will benefit from a new ability to direct personal income into independent accounts, up to $5,000.

"This is a huge step forward for the disabled," Portwood said. "The number one way to get them back in the work force is to allow them to go back to work and not lose their health care. If they can earn 100 bucks extra, that goes back into their pocket and not to Uncle Sam. They can use money saved from earnings for products and services that are not covered."

In Thursday's press release, Scott expressed her confidence in McCaslin's ability to head the new HealthNet programs.

"An individual of his caliber is extremely hard to find," she said. "I have complete confidence in his experience and abilities. He will make wise and informed decisions as this change unfolds."

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