Governor Brownback’s recent appointment of Tribune family physician Robert Moser, MD, as secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is significant for several reasons. From a purely historical standpoint, Dr. Moser is the first physician to lead the sprawling health agency since it was merged with environment in 1974 (with the exception of Lt. Gov. Jack Walker, MD, of Kansas City, who briefly served as Acting Secretary in the 1988 Hayden administration). Though the agency, which dates back to the original State Board of Health created in 1885, had physician leaders for the first ninety years of its existence, for the past thirty-six years that hasn’t been the case.
That the Governor reached out to a practicing physician to lead KDHE shows his deep respect and regard for the medical profession. Already a very complex agency with over 1,000 employees, KDHE is about to become even larger and more complicated, with the state Medicaid agency (and its $2.5 billion budget) and the state employees health plan soon to be merged into it. In all, the agency will be responsible for purchasing health care for about a half million Kansans, in addition to its already considerable obligations as the lead health and environmental policy agency for the state.
The next few years are especially critical from a health policy standpoint, as the state prepares itself for implementation of the recently enacted federal health reform law. Every state, including Kansas, is in the process of rapidly gearing up to meet its responsibilities under the new law. KDHE will be a major player in that process, and the state is extremely fortunate to have an experienced, highly regarded physician leading the agency through that important transition.
The new governor has also announced his commitment to help re-invigorate rural Kansas through tax incentives and the creation of Rural Opportunity Zones. Given the importance of physicians, hospitals and other health resources to the economic vitality of rural communities, having a physician with deep rural roots and a keen understanding of the challenges of rural medicine leading KDHE will be of immense value to the administration as it constructs the policy framework for this initiative.
Finally, the governor couldn’t have picked a more even-tempered, likeable and competent individual to run the huge agency. Dr. Moser brings a wealth of real world health care experience and credibility to KDHE, at a time when the agency will be challenged to not only keep up with, but lead, in the changing world of health care.