The transformation of Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services into 2 departments in July meant big changes for the agency’s staff and divisions. The leaders of the 2 departments discussed adjustments that were made and initiatives they’re focusing on during the 2022 Alaska State of Reform Health Policy Conference’s Lunch Keynote.
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Adam Crum, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health, and Kim Kovol, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Family and Community Services, said the agencies have been working closely with providers to ensure a smooth transition to the new format.
“Health and Social Services was a mega agency, so we wanted to make sure our direct care providers and services were aligned and getting the time and attention they deserved with their communities and the complex issues they had to deal with,” Crum said. “The idea behind this was to make sure we could tackle very difficult issues and items going on for both staff as well as Alaskans we serve.”
Kovol said the transformation is a work in progress, but things have gone well so far.
“There’s a lot of good communication between the two departments and the divisions,” Kovol said. “We don’t function without each other. But there’s been a lot more response time. Partners are responding that they liked having more attention, [and] we are seeing less complaints. We’re making it work.”
A key focus for health officials is boosting Alaskans’ long-term health care, and a new initiative supporting that is the Healthy You campaign, Crum said.
“[It] is teaching about the importance of a healthy diet, activity levels, mental health, and healthy habits,” Crum said. “We continue to push this as a tool kit, and we hope to expand on that more next year because it’s trying to get Alaskans, in general, to recognize the importance of taking care of themselves and taking care of each other.”
Looking toward the future, one of the department’s key priorities over the next 4 years will be addressing chronic disease, Crum said.
“How do we do this through possible employer or insurance incentives?” Crum asked. “How do we get encouragement in schools and education for kids so they see this? And how do we continue to enforce items like that? We have a lot of great tools in place already with our 1115 waiver for substance use disorder and behavioral health.”
Crum also discussed the impact the upcoming end of the public health emergency will have on the department.
“The way we’re going to do this is following the CMS-recommended model of doing eligibility redeterminations by month,” Crum said. “If you first got on Medicaid in April, that means that in the month of April coming up, that’s when your eligibility redetermination is due.
So for folks who became eligible in July, they are completely fine until July 2023. This means we’re not going to have 265,000 people fall off of Medicaid all at once. We do not have the staff, the technology, or the wherewithal to deal with that. That would crush the system. So we’re going to do this on a rolling basis.”