- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 29, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina’s health agency expanded the responsibilities of a surgeon already working on Medicaid issues by naming him as the new Medicaid director.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos announced Tuesday that Dr. Robin Cummings has added the title of director of the Division of Medical Assistance. The agency operates the government insurance program for about 1.7 million state residents and spends $13 billion in federal and state funds annually.

Cummings succeeds Carol Steckel, who left last fall after less than a year on the job for the private sector. Sandy Terrell was acting director until now.

Cummings came to the health department last year from Community Care of the Sandhills to lead the Office of Rural Health and Community Care. He became acting health director, then deputy secretary for health services. In the last three months, Cummings was designated as Medicaid “leader,” without the division director’s title. His job was to focus on how to transform Medicaid operations by identifying where services can be delivered better.

“It is a natural transition for Dr. Cummings to expand his current role to lead the DMA organization,” Wos said in an email to employees announcing the decision.

Cummings will keep the health director and deputy secretary titles and continue to earn $220,000 annually, said department spokesman Kevin Howell.

A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and the Duke medical school, Cummings will manage the program as Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration attempts to get through the legislature this year a proposal to overhaul how Medicaid spends money treating patients.

The administration’s proposal envisions networks of primary care physicians or hospitals that would have financial incentives to keep Medicaid costs below set levels but would also share in cost overruns. The “accountable care organizations” could result in $329 million in annual savings by mid-2020, a department report said.

Hospital and physician groups generally support the idea, but lawmakers unhappy with several years of Medicaid shortfalls aren’t in agreement. DHHS estimates the state’s share of this year’s shortfall could be as high as $140 million.

Wos, in a news release, said Cummings has “the right combination of strong leadership and extensive involvement in our health care system” to create Wos‘ vision for a sustainable Medicaid program.