Speculation continues about changes in executive agencies whose directors serve by gubernatorial appointment. Republican Asa Hutchinson takes office in January after eight years of the Beebe administration.
Over the weekend, I heard, for example, that a change might be coming in the office of Arkansas surgeon general. The current officeholder, Dr. Joseph W. Thompson, is on vacation and unreachable, a spokesman said. I haven’t heard back from the Hutchinson transition team.
Thompson’s spokesman did volunteer that he believed political appointees should respect the process and that he’d offered a resignation during a previous gubernatorial transition. She said he intended to do the same with Hutchinson, but she had no idea if he’d done so yet or if there would be an acceptance or rejection from Hutchinson.
Thompson has served as the state’s chief health officer, or Arkansas surgeon general, under two governors. News that he might depart is wrapped up in a larger question — the fate of the private option Medicaid expansion. Thompson was a key player in development of Arkansas health strategies, first under Mike Huckabee and then under Mike Beebe.
He became chief health officer under Huckabee in 2005. Legislation in 2007 formally established the post of surgeon general, which helps develop public health policy, creates position statements for the executive branch and generally works on bettering health.
Hutchinson has not said yet whether he’ll push for reauthorization of the private option Medicaid expansion, which has added almost a quarter of a million Arkansans to health insurance. He’s believed to favor some form of continuation of the program because of the immense financial benefit it brings in federal dollars, but most agree some changes will be necessary to make it more palatable to conservative Republican legislators. A solid group of them were elected to office on the strength of their opposition to implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in any form.
At the legislature, Thompson has lobbied for additions to the private option plan aimed at soothing conservative legislators. They added more “cost-sharing” for recipients of coverage and required health savings accounts, even for very low-paid workers.