Dooley Hopeful, Realistic on Health Care Changes

California’s recently appointed secretary of Health and Human Services, Diana Dooley, sat down with us this week to talk about the present and future of health care in California. The full story and interview will appear Thursday in California Healthline’s Feature section.

Dooley knows this is a pivotal time in California’s history in terms of health care policy. As the first in the nation to start a health benefits exchange as mandated under the health reform law, California is poised not only to revamp its own complicated and arcane health care system, but also possibly to influence the way the rest of the nation approaches health reform.

But how all of that will play out over the next three or four years is not the only thing on the new secretary’s plate.

“Right now, I’m really facing the first six months,” Dooley said. Front and center for her, Dooley said, is to handle the looming presence of the budget deficit, and the possible cuts that could come from it.

“Over the next four years, we’ll really be looking at how to use the Affordable Care Act and health care reform to move California to the goals we’ve been seeking for many years,” Dooley said. “And right now, we have some serious issues to face with our social programs.”

Governor-elect Jerry Brown, who will be sworn in on Jan. 3, will immediately tackle the budget deficit, which state officials have estimated as a $28-billion gap for the next 18 months. Cuts are coming, and Dooley knows that a lot of those could come out of the health care services budget.

“We have to decide, what do we do to stabilize health care and the safety net,” Dooley said. “It’s like an emergency room, like performing triage. We need to know what are the greatest needs, the most essential services. And then we can start to heal this patient.”

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