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Originally published April 1, 2010 at 9:21 PM | Page modified April 1, 2010 at 10:29 PM

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Gregoire creating 'health cabinet'

Gov. Chris Gregoire said she is creating a "Health Care Cabinet" to make existing state programs work with the new federal health-care law and a plan to bring its dollars into Washington state as soon as possible.

Seattle Times health reporter

Creating a "health-care cabinet" and plan to bring federal health dollars into Washington state as soon as possible were among the steps announced Thursday by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The new cabinet's job will be to make existing state programs work with the new federal law and its promised payload of money for a cash-strapped state.

"We want to get that plane to land smoothly, so that means we have to start building the runway today," she said.

Gregoire also noted that many state departments and programs now separately buy health-care services for those they cover. She announced a plan to consolidate those purchases, saying it would "drive down costs and drive up quality."

First to be combined will be the Medicaid program and the state's Health Care Authority, which buys health care for state employees and recipients of the Basic Health Plan.

Together, Gregoire said, Medicaid and the Health Care Authority make up the largest part of the state's health-care expenditure — about $4.5 billion per year — almost a third of the state budget.

Eventually, she hopes to include other state agencies, such as the Department of Corrections and Veterans Affairs.

The changes will be overseen by the Health Care Authority. To head it, Gregoire appointed Doug Porter, now state Medicaid director and assistant secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services' Health and Recovery Services Administration.

Steve Hill, now the Health Care Authority director, will continue as director of Retirement Systems and will chair the Puget Sound Health Alliance, a partnership of health-care providers, insurers, businesses and others.

Porter and Hill, along with other department and program heads, will also serve on Gregoire's new health-care cabinet.

The governor also said she is pushing for a federal waiver to receive federal funds for the state's Basic Health Plan, now in trouble because of state budget woes, and for a smaller program that covers temporarily disabled people. The "bridge funding" provisions were pushed by the Washington congressional delegation, she said, in particular Sen. Maria Cantwell.

But, she warned, it could take months — perhaps as much as a year — before money is available.

Carol M. Ostrom: 206-464-2249 or costrom@seattletimes.com

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