Gov. Nathan Deal not only made major staff changes in his administration this week, he filled two seats on the important Department of Community Health board that have been vacant for a couple of months.
Such board appointments generally aren’t big news, but the timing of two DCH members leaving the panel in September caused the administration political indigestion.
The board sets policy for a state agency that runs the state’s Medicaid program for the poor and disabled and the $3 billion State Health Benefit Plan, which covers about 650,000 teachers, state employees, retirees and their dependents.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in early September that two members of the board got a call from the administration telling them they were being replaced just five hours after a $26 million rate hike for the politically powerful nursing home industry had been stalled at a DCH meeting.
One of the board members had spoken out against the rate hike and the other had previously voted against it.
The governor’s office said the timing was a coincidence, and that the decision to replace the two members – Jamie Pennington and William “Bill” Wallace – had been made well before the meeting. Wallace’s term had expired more than a year earlier, but board members generally continue to serve until they resign or are replaced.
Major Deal donors in the nursing home industry would have collected millions of dollars from the increase, according to DCH records.
On Monday, Deal’s office announced it was appointing two new members: Roger Folsom, a campaign contributor and owner of a Dublin medical supply company, and Russ Childers, a longtime Americus insurance agent who has been active in state and national health underwriters organizations. The state group, for which Childers once served as president, was a contributor to Deal in his 2010 campaign. Deal appointed him to his “health exchange advisory committee” in 2011 that was formed to consider whether the state should form a health exchanges under Obamacare. The state wound up letting the federal government handle the exchanges instead.