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Evers names Obama official to head Wisconsin health agency

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov.-elect Tony Evers on Thursday named a former Obama administration official who worked on implementing the federal health care law to head the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Evers’ transition team announced that Andrea Palm will lead the state agency with a $12 billion annual budget that oversees Wisconsin’s Badger Care Plus Medicaid program, SeniorCare and a host of other public benefits programs. Palm is subject to confirmation by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate, which has the power to block any pick by the Democratic Evers.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald did not immediately return an email seeking comment on the pick. But Palm’s selection drew praise from Jon Peacock, research director at Kids Forward, which advocates for Medicaid expansion.

“Palm brings a wide range of expertise on health care issues and will be a very valuable asset for the Evers administration and for health care policymaking in Wisconsin,” Peacock said.

Evers is working to round out his 17-member Cabinet before he is sworn into office Monday, replacing Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Palm and other Cabinet appointees were to be introduced at a Thursday news conference.

Palm is a key addition to Evers’ inner circle, as he campaigned on expanding health care coverage and implementing the Medicaid expansion allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act. Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature did a partial expansion, but never accepted the federal money to cover about 75,000 additional poor people.

Under Wisconsin law, those only earning up to the poverty level, or $12,140 for a single person, qualify for the state’s Badger Care Plus Medicaid program. Expanding it to 138 percent of poverty — $16,753 for a single person and $34,638 for a family of four — would require legislative approval.

Making the move to accept the federal expansion would save the state an estimated $180 million a year. Wisconsin missed out on $1.1 billion since 2014, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Thirty-five states have taken the money, and voters in three others approved the expansion in the November election.

Evers plans to include the $180 million in his budget proposal and increase reimbursement rates for Medicaid providers, hoping to reach a compromise with Republicans who have argued against expansion because of the additional cost it places on doctors who provide their care.

Wisconsin’s BadgerCare Plus Medicaid program covers about 773,000 people, about 300,000 of whom are non-disabled, non-elderly adults. The department’s total budget this year is about $12.3 billion, with $4 billion in state general purpose money. More than 80 percent of the agency’s budget, about $10.2 billion, is spent on Medicaid programs.

Palm has experience as a member of President Barack Obama’s administration working on implementation of the Affordable Care Act. She most recently served as senior counselor to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under Obama from 2014 until 2017.

According to her online biography, Palm oversaw the operational agenda for the public health and human services agencies, encompassing more than 60,000 staff members. She also worked as a senior adviser to the White House Domestic Policy Council during implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Before joining the Obama administration in 2009, she worked five years as a health policy adviser to then-Sen. Hillary Clinton. She also served three years as legislative director for former California Rep. Bob Matsui.

Palm’s appointment left Evers with five Cabinet secretary positions to fill. They are secretaries of Children and Families, Revenue, Workforce Development, Housing and Economic Development and Safety and Professional Services.

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