Updated: New HHSC Chief Sees Opportunities in Medicaid

Update, 2:20 p.m.: 

The state's incoming Health and Human Services commissioner said Monday that while Gov. Rick Perry and the Legislature will decide what to do about the Affordable Care Act, he's hopeful that the state and federal government will be able to work together to improve Medicaid. 

"To me there are so many unknowns out there that it's almost not a problem, it's an opportunity," former Republican state Sen. Kyle Janek said in an interview hours after Perry appointed him. "It's easy to get mad at the federal government. ... The immediate task is to work with [the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services] to find out how much latitude they're ready to give us so we can try something different."

Janek said he first spoke with the governor's office about heading up HHSC about three weeks ago, and that the decision was finalized on Friday. He said he believed — like many in health care circles — that Department of Aging and Disability Services Commissioner Chris Traylor was the front-runner. (Traylor will be Janek's deputy.) 

"It's not that one of us won and the other one didn’t," Janek said. "He's got unbelievable talent and respect. Whether I drive and he navigates, or he drives and I navigate, the governor recognizes Chris and I can work well together." 

Janek said he's familiar with the budget constraints his agency will be facing in the upcoming legislative session; he spent two terms on House Appropriations and his entire Senate tenure on that body's finance committee. While he acknowledged that the budget hole left to backfill has "gotten a bit bigger than in years past," he said the agency will "do the very best we can with the amount of money lawmakers give us." 

Original story:  

Former Republican State Sen. Kyle Janek, a practicing anesthesiologist, will head the state's Health and Human Services Commission, replacing outgoing chief Tom Suehs, the governor's office announced on Monday. 

And Chris Traylor, commissioner of the state's Department of Aging and Disability Services, will become chief deputy HHSC commissioner, replacing Billy Millwee, the state's Medicaid director who is also leaving the agency this summer.

“Texas, like the rest of the country, is headed into a period of the most significant changes in health care in our history,” Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement. “This new leadership team, with Kyle and Chris at the helm, combines unparalleled experience and expertise to ensure Texans continue to have access to the health care they need while implementing fiscal policies that are mindful that it’s taxpayer money they are spending.”

Janek, of Houston, served in the House for eight years before winning election to the Senate, where he served until 2008. In recent years, he’s been a registered lobbyist, with clients including the Texas Medical Liability Trust, the Texas Society of Anesthesiologists, the American Cancer Society and a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company. He will take his new job Sept. 1. 

Traylor has been commissioner of DADS since 2010. He is past associate commissioner for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. 

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