SALT LAKE CITY — One of the largest and most expensive programs in the state government is losing its director of 10 years.
Michael Hales, who also serves as deputy director of the Utah Department of Health, is stepping down to pursue opportunities in the private sector, the department announced Thursday.
Medicaid, an essential benefit program offered through a partnership with the federal government, has been in the public eye for the past three years as lawmakers have been arguing over possible expansion options to cover tens of thousands of uninsured Utahns. While state leaders have yet to make a decision on the matter, Hales has provided public comment and delivered critical statistics and information at dozens of meetings.
"Michael Hales has done a tremendous job in a demanding and challenging position in state government," Gov. Gary Herbert said in a prepared statement. "The complex program he directed was always in the spotlight. But his top priority was always the vulnerable Utahns who rely on the program to access health care."
Medicaid has an operating budget of nearly $2.5 billion and provides nearly 320,000 Utahns with access to health care. But the governor's budget released Wednesday did not contain any plans for expansion of the program, despite Herbert's push for his Healthy Utah plan last year.
Lawmakers two months ago dumped yet another proposal to expand the program, opting to leave federal match dollars on the table for a third year.
In the 10 years of Hales' direction, the program has undergone many changes, including implementation of the Medicaid Preferred Drug List, which saved taxpayers $46 million last year, the health department reports. Medicaid also converted to Accountable Care Organizations under Hales' watch. Various services have also been expanded, including coverage of treatment of autism spectrum disorders and other medically complex conditions.
Also under Hales' watch, Medicaid systems were breached by hackers in 2012, leading the department of health to contact and assist thousands of Utahns with long-term identity protection plans.
Hales will finish out the year in his position, with Nate Checketts, current Medicaid deputy director, taking over Dec. 31. The health department will launch a search to replace Hales early next year.
The Medicaid director is a position in Utah that is appointed by the governor, with advice and consent required from the state Senate.
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