Malloy taps hospital association executive to take the lead on health reform

Gov.-elect Dan Malloy has appointed a Connecticut Hospital Association executive and former head of the Hispanic Health Council to lead state efforts to implement federal health care reform.

As a deputy public health commissioner and special advisor to the governor on healthcare reform, Jeannette DeJesús will oversee a wide range of efforts intended to prepare the state for an expansion of health care coverage. Malloy said the job will be a cabinet-level position in his administration, something he said reflected his desire to move forward quickly in reforming the health care system.

“This is a very special and important assignment,” he said. “She will be in many ways my point person in Washington when it comes to these health care issues.”

Malloy said he got to know DeJesús when they served together on a Connecticut Health Foundation panel on eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities.

“Working on that panel, I became a great admirer of hers,” Malloy said. “I sought her out for this position. I’m very proud that she’s joined us.”

DeJesús, 46, said implementing health care reform is “among the most important issues of our time.”

“I hope to build unity in a time of tremendous change and uncertainty within the health care field within our state,” she said. “As Gov.-elect Malloy has demonstrated, anyone who is thoughtful, open to new possibilities, is ready to roll up their sleeves and has the overall well-being of the people of Connecticut foremost in their minds, has a place at the table of national health care reform implementation in Connecticut.”

DeJesús is charged with overseeing the many changes that must take place in a short period of time. Although the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act does not fully roll out until 2014, it leaves considerable responsibility to the states.

By 2014, each state must have a health insurance exchange, a marketplace for purchasing coverage that will also be charged with collecting data, reporting to the federal government, certifying and rating insurance plans, and tracking which employers do not offer insurance to their workers. By 2015, the exchanges must be financially self-sustaining.

In addition, states must prepare to ramp up their Medicaid eligibility by 2014. Connecticut is projected to have 114,000 new Medicaid enrollees, which will likely require additional staff to process applications.

Deputy public health commissioner Cristine Vogel has led the state’s health reform implementation efforts since July as a special advisor to Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Vogel has also led a Health Care Reform Cabinet, which includes the commissioners of 11 agencies. Malloy said DeJesús’ job will be similar, but elevated. The position does not require confirmation by the legislature.

As a newcomer to the health reform role, DeJesús won’t be alone. Many states have political appointees leading health reform implementation efforts, and with more than two dozen states inaugurating new governors, many of those positions are likely to change hands.

But DeJesús already has been involved in efforts to promote health reform on the state and federal levels. She co-chaired a task force on tobacco and smoking cessation for the SustiNet Health Partnership board, which designed a proposal for a state public health insurance option. In 2009, she spoke as part of U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd’s “Prescriptions for Change” health care listening tour, and described working daily with people who had no health insurance and often worked two or three jobs.

DeJesús, who has a degree in social work from New York University and a degree in public administration from Harvard, currently works as vice president for strategic alliances at the Connecticut Hospital Association, a job she took in the fall of 2010. She spent eight years at the Hispanic Health Council, where she served as president and CEO.

She also previously served as executive vice president of the National Conference for Community and Justice, and program coordinator at St. Vincent’s Hospital’s rape crisis program in New York.

She also is a member of the Board of Directors of The Connecticut News Project, publisher of The Connecticut Mirror. She will resign from that position.

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