Gov. Wolf picks insurance commissioner to lead new state agency

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | May 23, 2017 4:26 PM

Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller speaks at a press conference on Tuesday, after Gov. Tom Wolf announced that he's selected her to lead a new state agency that would be called the Department of Health and Human Services, if the Legislature approves the new agency.

(Harrisburg) -- Governor Tom Wolf is pushing to consolidate four state agencies into one Department of Health and Human Services.

And he's now made his pick to head the new department - if the Legislature approves the merger.

Wolf says he'll nominate Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Miller has had an increasingly prominent role in the state - evaluating insurance plans to make sure they provide addiction treatment, and resolving a dispute between UPMC and Highmark's Medicare plans.

Wolf says he had a great group of candidates, but Miller stood out.

"I've just been that impressed with what Teresa has done in the Insurance Commission, and it seemed to me that she pulled her team together in a way that was beyond compare," he says.

The Republican-controlled state Legislature still needs to approve consolidating the departments of health, human services, drug and alcohol programs, and aging to form the new HHS department.

"What I'm trying to show here is that we have a good leadership plan for making this reorganization work really well for the people that all of us want this reorganization to work for," Wolf says.

Some groups have raised concerns that consolidating four departments into one, especially in the middle of the opioid crisis, could allow issues to slip by.

Wolf says he's working to allay those concerns, but didn't offer specifics.

Future roles for three department heads - Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas, Drug and Alcohol Programs Acting Secretary Jennifer Smith, and Aging Secretary Teresa Osborne - haven't been resolved. Wolf says he's talking with all three to find them roles, if the consolidation plan is approved. 

Health Secretary Karen Murphy announced she's leaving for a job in the private sector around the end of June.

As part of the consolidation, Gov. Wolf's budget estimates 500 positions would be cut. Budget Secretary Randy Albright says he's confident only modest furloughs would be necessary.

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