Jennifer Kent wore her pearls to this one.
After an hour-long hearing where she answered every question lawmakers could ask of her, a hearing capped by a lengthy conga line of supporters stepping to the microphone to wish her well, Kent was confirmed Wednesday as director of the Department of Health Care Services.
It’s a job she has held for almost a year. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) appointed her to the position on Jan. 26, 2015, and it’s a job that needed to be approved by the Legislature.
“It is a distinct honor to be here,” Kent said at the hearing. “This job, without a doubt, is going to be the best job I’m ever going to have in my entire life.”
Kent has worked in the department twice before, as a deputy director and as head of legislative affairs under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), and she has been executive director for Local Health Plans of California, which handles about 60% of the state’s Medi-Cal managed care population.
“The people are compelling to me, the mission is compelling, the challenges are extremely large and complex. Every day is different,” Kent said. “So when this opportunity came, it was without a second’s hesitation that I put my hat in the ring.”
Kent then answered questions about the culture of the department, the likelihood of brokering a deal on the re-formed MCO tax, the expansion of Medi-Cal and the new law offering full-scope Medi-Cal to undocumented children and about services for seniors and the disabled.
“You are leading one of the most important departments in the state,” said committee member state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). “By some estimates, one-third of the population of the state. That is an awesome task and responsibility.”
Mitchell wanted to address the culture of the department first.
“I’ve sat on both sides of it, communicating out from the department and trying to communicate in,” Kent said. “Sometimes when you’re a stakeholder you will put feedback in and what comes out looks nothing like what you put in, and you wonder what happened in that magic box of translation.”
The department’s effort to engage stakeholders has changed and evolved, she said.
We’ve had a huge effort to professionalize our stakeholder engagement across all the ways we communicate with stakeholders.” Kent said. “What we’ve really tried to do is both professionalize the agenda … and … if a decision was made that was not what the stakeholders recommended, it’s up to us to communicate how and why that was achieved.”
Committee chair and Senate pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) wanted to know if the state was going to be able to replace the expiring $1.1 billion MCO tax, and if the solution would be acceptable to both sides of the aisle.
“What we have done is an aggressive proposal that meets those [business] concerns, and I’m heartened by how it’s gone so far,” Kent said. “No one has said no. I think we’re in a good place.”
The parade of supporters and well-wishers who queued up for the microphone at the end of the confirmation hearing included consumer advocates, administrators and Robert Gore, senior adviser at the Gualco Group, who is a former colleague of Kent’s.
“In addition to her exquisite technical competence,” Gore said, “Jennifer Kent is caring, compassionate and in short amazing, a perfect leader for DHCS and all of its diverse communities.”
After the committee vote and after de Leon congratulated Kent on her confirmation, there was a moment where she got up to leave and couldn’t – because got a long and sustained standing ovation.
The Senate Rules Committee voted 4-0 for confirmation.