ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Gov. Mark Dayton picked an attorney with years of experience in health care issues to head Minnesota’s massive Human Services Department on Tuesday, charging her with speeding up implementation of a Medicaid health care expansion he ordered last week.
The appointment of Lucinda Jesson, a Hamline University law professor, fills one of the key remaining posts in the Democratic governor’s cabinet.
The Department of Human Services is the state’s second-largest agency, consuming nearly a third of the state’s general fund, trailing only the Department of Education. Counting federal dollars, Human Services is the largest department by spending and it also employs more people than any other state agency. The department oversees public health care and welfare programs, nursing homes and treatment for sex offenders and the mentally ill.
Dayton’s first act as governor was to order the expansion of the Medicaid health care program for vulnerable adults.
In Jesson, he tapped a legal specialist in health care matters, with experience ranging from the state attorney general’s office to leading a health law institute at Hamline’s law school.
Jesson, 52, is a former deputy attorney general who has also worked for the Hennepin County prosecutor, been a partner at a Minneapolis law firm and founded her own practice. She was involved in state health care debates in the 1990s and has spoken about the federal health care overhaul in Minnesota and other states. She also worked on appointments and outreach for Dayton’s transition team.
“Already, I’ve charged her with speeding the delivery of services, including the implementation of the Medicaid expansion, so that we can provide improved and more cost-effective care to those in need,” Dayton said in a release.
In an interview, Jesson said she expects to put the Medicaid expansion in place “much more quickly” than October, as an agency official predicted before Dayton took office.
“I think we can do this efficiently and correctly in a much more effective manner,” Jesson said.
Jesson said she hopes to restore Minnesota’s reputation as a national innovator in health and welfare programs. As areas of focus, she said she plans to look at streamlining regulation and licensing, rooting out fraud and re-examining contracts with health plans. Jesson said she will also be looking for grants and other opportunities under the federal health care law.
“I want Department of Human Services to return to the history of innovation that it’s had in the past,” she said.
Jesson, who lives in St. Paul, starts her new job on Thursday.
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