Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said last week that he would nominate his insurance commissioner, Teresa Miller, to lead a new agency he is proposing to oversee the public health and social and human services programs currently carried out by four cabinet-level departments.
Miller, a lawyer who also has served in the federal government, would lead the proposed Department of Health and Human Services, if the Republican-controlled Legislature approves the move.
It would be created by combining the departments of Human Services, Health, Aging and Drug and Alcohol Programs. Lawmakers have questioned whether it might take years to fully consolidate agencies, whether service delivery might suffer and whether it would really save any money.
“My goal is to convince them that we’ll do a better job,” Wolf said. Cutting costs is a side benefit, Wolf said, that can be achieved without layoffs.
Miller has worked capably with all four agencies and has extensive experience with issues involving mental health treatment and long-term care for the elderly, Wolf said.
Before she became Wolf’s insurance commissioner in 2015, Miller was a lawyer specializing in the implementation and enforcement of the 2010 federal health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.
She has worked for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and served in various posts in Oregon state government, including as its top insurance administrator.
Miller also has helped lead the Wolf administration’s response to efforts in Washington, D.C., to overhaul health care regulations.
Wolf pitched the consolidation in January as a way to improve services and save money for a deficit-strapped budget.
Advocates for the elderly and addiction treatment services have questioned whether they would receive as much attention from a bigger agency.
Wolf has said he is working to allay those concerns.
“I’m going to be working on that until a vote is taken,” Wolf said.
Combining the four departments would create an agency that handles close to $40 billion in federal and state money, or nearly half the annual total in Pennsylvania state government.
The combined agency would have a wide range of responsibilities, including administering Medicaid; responding to public health emergencies; inspecting health care facilities; and distributing billions in aid to county social services programs.
Administration officials say regulated providers, such as hospitals, nursing homes and child care centers, could see a reduction in their current burden of requiring multiple licenses, audits and inspections, while creating “one-stop shopping” for beneficiaries, including the elderly and the physically disabled.
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