Nixon selects new Missouri Medicaid director

The chief medical officer for Missouri’s mental health agency is taking over as director of the state’s Medicaid health care program.

Gov. Jay Nixon said Friday that Joe Parks was selected the director of the MO HealthNet Division of the Department of Social Services. The division oversees the Medicaid program that provides health coverage to more than 850,000 lower-income children, custodial parents, disabled residents and seniors.

Nixon said Friday that Parks is respected in the medical field and by Republicans and Democrats. He’ll begin on Dec. 16.

“Dr. Parks’ nearly two decades of experience with public health will be beneficial in helping to ensure that Missouri’s Medicaid system is efficient, effective and responsive to the needs of Missourians,” Nixon said.

Parks replaces Ian McCaslin, who left the director position in May after holding the post since August 2007. Neither McCaslin nor the department provided an explanation about his departure. McCaslin was hired this fall as the director of family health services in the Virginia Department of Health.

Medicaid has received significant attention at the state Capitol. Nixon has sought to expand it to cover an additional 260,000 adults. The Republican-led Legislature has repeatedly rejected expansion, and GOP legislative leaders have said they want to improve Missouri’s current Medicaid program before considering proposals to expand eligibility.

Parks practices psychiatry with outpatients at a community health center established to expand services to uninsured and underinsured in the Columbia area. He will be stepping down from his positions as director of the Missouri Institute of Mental Health with the University of Missouri-St. Louis and as chairman of the Medical Director’s Council for the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.

“Whether it’s the children of working families who need a simple check-up, or seniors who need help managing their chronic medical conditions, the MO HealthNet program has an opportunity to improve the whole spectrum of public health in Missouri which will keep our state and our economy on solid ground moving forward,” Parks said.

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