Arkansas Surgeon General Joe Thompson confirms this morning that he’d talked with Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson last week and that Hutchinson had informed him he’d be taking the office of surgeon general in a “new direction” and would not need Thompson’s services.
So Thompson will relinquish that role. He said he didn’t learn what changes Hutchinson might have in mind.
Thompson said he’d remain director of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement a strategic health policy planning agency, and that he’d remain involved in work on Medicaid and other insurance-related programs. “We’ll see how things play out,” he said.
I have a question in to the Hutchinson transition about that “new direction.” Though the surgeon general was created by statute in 2007, Hutchinson is not mandated to fill it. UPDATE: Hutchinson indicated to reporters later that he would name a new surgeon general who’d help him have a “fresh look” on health issues. He also was quoted as saying that John Selig would stay on as director of the Department of Human Services, at least for now.
Under the existing arrangement, Thompson has been paid as surgeon general $125,000 through a state Health Department contract to give half his time to the job. The other half of his job is leading ACHI, a $4 million agency funded by grants and contracts and $1 million from UAMS, Children’s Hospital, Delta Dental, the Health Department and Blue Cross. He’ll now work full-time for ACHI. He said he expected to continue advocating, if as an independent voice, for continuation of the private option and related programs. He said it was working well in expanding care, reducing uncompensated costs for hospitals and otherwise discouraging an upward trend in medical costs.
UPDATE: Thompson’s formal statement follows:
As Arkansas’s first Surgeon General, I have had the honor of serving at the request of both Governors Beebe and Huckabee. I had intended to submit my letter of resignation to Governor-elect Asa Hutchinson on January 13, 2014—just as I did when Mike Beebe took office as Governor in 2007. In the meantime, I recently received a call from Governor-elect Hutchinson, advising me that he will be making changes to the Surgeon General role and does not intend to appoint me to the position.
I am proud of the accomplishments we have made in our state over the past decade that I have served as Surgeon General. The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and stakeholders across the state have achieved several major health policy initiatives targeting tobacco cessation, obesity prevention, fluoridation, injury prevention, trauma system development, expanded use of health information technology and finally, payment reform and health coverage expansion.
The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement has a long history as a trusted advisor, providing bipartisan, evidence-based solutions for improving the health, quality of life and productivity of Arkansans. While there is considerable political change now taking place in our state, I remain committed to improving the health of Arkansans. As the Director of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, I will continue to advocate for strategies that address the health needs of all Arkansans and extend our support to the next administration.