State to change Medicaid chiefs

ATLANTA - A former head of Florida's health agency will assume a similar role in Georgia next month, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced Friday.

Dr. Rhonda Medows, secretary of health care administration under Florida Gov. Jeb Bush from 2001 until last year, will succeed Tim Burgess as commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Health on Dec. 1.

After running the agency that oversees the state's Medicaid program for the past 21⁄2 years, Burgess will become budget director for the University of Georgia.

Burgess has spent 27 years in state government, including stints as both deputy director and director of the budget office.

Perdue turned to him to lead the DCH at a time the Medicaid program was being torn in two directions by soaring health care costs coupled with the need for belt tightening across state government to cope with sluggish tax revenues.

Burgess has overseen the beginnings of major reforms, including bringing managed care - a longtime feature of private health plans - to Georgia's Medicaid population and a disease management initiative that will keep closer tabs on patients with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

"We had to have someone who had budgeting experience to lead us through some transition times ... while maintaining a safety net for our neediest Georgians,'' the governor said.

Perdue said that Medows, 43, comes to Georgia with a track record in Medicaid reform, both in Florida and in her current role as the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' chief medical officer for the Southeast region.

Georgia is currently working with the CMS for approval of a waiver that would allow the state more flexibility to raise co-payments for Medicaid recipients in exchange for limits on federal funding of the state's program.

"Georgia is going in the right direction,'' Medows said. "The use of managed care and disease management is something that affords us opportunities to increase coordination of care and better manage costs.''

Added Perdue: "She has participated in those types of transformations in Florida and at the CMS. She's well positioned to have a broad perspective.''

Burgess said the timing is good for him to leave because the state is about to move from planning the various reforms he's been working on to implementing the changes.

But he said he also wants to spend more time with his family in Watkinsville, a long daily commute from downtown Atlanta.

"I have a 2-year-old son who was born three months after I took this job,'' he said. "I have missed a lot of him growing up.''

Medows, a family physician with a degree from Atlanta's Morehouse School of Medicine, will be paid an annual salary of $170,000.