Pence picks new social services chief to push Medicaid alternative after sudden exit by Minott


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INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Mike Pence picked a new secretary Wednesday to run the Family and Social Services Administration and created a new position overseeing his proposed alternative to traditional Medicaid.

Pence announced that Carmel psychiatrist John Wernert would take over the state's largest agency, the first medical doctor to oversee it. Meanwhile, former FSSA secretary Michael Gargano will return in a new role as deputy secretary for operations and the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, Pence said.

"With more than two decades in the medical field serving some of our most vulnerable Hoosiers, Dr. John J. Wernert has the expertise, character, and history of service to lead Indiana's Family and Social Services Administration," Pence said in a statement.

Wernert is the medical director of medical management at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis and was the medical director for behavioral health integration for the Franciscan Alliance health system.

He'll replace outgoing Secretary Debra Minott, who unexpectedly announced her resignation last week; neither Pence nor Minott have explained her sudden departure. Gargano, who led the agency until Pence took office last January, is returning in the new role overseeing Pence's insurance expansion plan.

The Pence administration is in the middle of pitching the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Indiana's proposal to use the state-run Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 to expand Medicaid, and will submit its application at the end of the month.

Pence and other Indiana Republicans have consistently opposed using traditional Medicaid to expand coverage for low-income residents. Instead, the governor has said the state-run plan would promote personal responsibility among low-income residents.

If the application is approved, residents earning up to 138 of the federal poverty level would be allowed to enroll in a hybrid-health savings account plan. The state estimates that more than 457,000 low-income residents could enroll in the program by 2020.

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