How a former Catholic priest is navigating a California Medicaid program through major changes

ORANGE, Calif. – For Michael Hunn, the path is clear from priesthood to health care.

Hunn, a resident of St. Louis. Louis, taught chaplains as a Catholic priest in the 1980s before leaving the clergy and moving into health care management. Over the next three years, he will be the Director of nine different hospitals – in California, Texas, and Missouri – among the top management positions. Instead of his usual path, there is a common level: a desire to help people.

“It’s in me the desire to do that,” said Hunn, 66, who remains a devout Catholic. He asked the church to release him from the pastorate if he decided to seek a better life and a better time to marry.

In March, Hunn was named CEO of CalOptima, the health insurance program for Medi-Cal enrollees in Orange County. Medi-Cal is the California version of Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides health coverage to people with low incomes.

Hunn left late last year as CalOptima CEO following the retirement of former CEO Richard Sanchez. Class members praised Hunn’s leadership and said his years of health care have made him the right person to lead the industry through the major changes that are coming to Medi- Cal.

CalOptima, one of the state’s largest Medi -Cal programs, serves 882,000 members – over a quarter of Orange County’s population. Most registrants need help with housing and employment, as well as health and mental health care. CalOptima, like other Medi-Cal plans, has pledged to participate in a new initiative, California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal, or CalAIM. The $ 6 billion trial is expected to provide personal enrollment with traditional services – such as home help and nutrition, detoxification, and home remodeling – that can improve their health.

Hunn, who has studied health care as a seminary student and often discusses life’s final decisions while working at the hospital as a priest, said he uses CalAIM provides CalOptima members with housing assistance and re -care, giving patients – some of whom are homeless – a respite after they are released from the hospital. Additional services may be added later.

Now, the state is seeking a closer look at all Medi-Cal health plans, which could put a strain on Hunn. The California Department of Health, which operates Medi-Cal, is working on new health planning agreements to improve regulations and establish strict reporting requirements beginning in 2024. Until CalOptima face competition for the first time if the state allows Kaiser Permanente to fly the fight as planned.

There are times when Hunn’s actions at CalOptima conflict with his religion. Medi-Cal pays for birth care, according to registration, which is prohibited by Catholic health education. And it covers doctor visits and prescription drugs for terminally ill patients who choose to end their lives, a practice the Vatican has called “a real disaster.”

KHN reporter Bernard J. Wolfson sat with Hunn in his office on the ninth floor of CalOptima’s headquarters to talk about his transition from priest to health care director and the changes. or Medi-Cal. The interview was arranged for length and clarity.

Question: Have you ever considered a career in health care – becoming a doctor, for example?

Before I went to theologate, I took an application for the medical school of Saint Louis University. I really thought I would seek medical treatment, because I really enjoyed working in hospitals. I prayed for it. I talked to my mother, before, about it. He said, “Follow your heart. Do what you think is right for you, but I think the church is calling you.

Question: How do you reconcile your Catholic faith with running a company that pays for birth care and the end of life?

I’m not a good editor to decide and tell, so I leave that and leave what I believe in at home. On the professional side, I will fulfill the role and responsibility as required.

Question: Kaiser Permanente works with the state, if allowed take patients and receive money from CalOptima. And because KP can accurately select the Medi-Cal members it needs, it can leave you with the most serious illnesses. Why are you so worried about the deal?

It would be better if there was more time to negotiate about a proper agreement for the inclusion and to communicate with some kind of exciting advertisement. We do not want a second health system to be created. The first step is, “If you go to Kaiser, we’ll choose what we want to have on our site.” The second class are the others.

If it continues, we will do everything in our power to ensure the smooth running of the branch.

N: What do you think about the state’s new Medi-Cal woodworking program under Magellan Health?

These large state projects always start with lumps. There are IT teams and on the Magellan side there are some staff teams. I think one of the keys is the phone waiting time, and there are some tasks that need to be done with the formulary.

But the number of calls from our members continues to drop. We continue to make about 30 calls a day, below. At its peak, more than 100 a day. Practicing.

Question: There is a strong demand in California for more equitable health care, and Medi-Cal plans are required to hire equity officers. Do you have one?

We’re finishing a job description, we’re going to put that position in place and we’re going to start looking for candidates. We can heat-map the differences and what we perceive as inadequate food, lack of employment, lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The data on the outside is amazing. I want the justice to be able to look at that and say with a sigh, “We have a hole here. What are we doing here, because we lost?”

N: Let’s talk CalAIM. Part of his 14 non -traditional services Does CalOptima offer now?

We have begun creating home archives for eligible CalOptima members. We are also starting to work on community building, where we direct our members to community support services to put people in the building.

The other big part at CalAIM that we are working on is return management.

N: Can you explain what it is?

Re -maintenance is common. For those who frequently come from a hospital. Sometimes they were homeless or homeless, and they needed a place to rest. They are not ready to return to safety or to the streets.

While they are there, staff will work to contact them for home management, job placement, health and mental health services. They have an online clinic where they can see a doctor; they get the medicine about the teeth.

Q: You are passionate about helping Orange County’s homeless population.

Homeless people in Orange County are eligible for CalOptima because they have no teachers.

I went to the homeless in the city of Fountain Valley, and I met face to face with our homeless people in their cars, in their cars, on the dirt, in the parks, in under bridges, in their tents, behind buildings. behind the rubbish. And everyone – that’s our member.

This story was created by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an independent editorial service of the California Health Care Foundation.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a government news agency that publishes in -depth news coverage on health issues. KHN is one of three major projects at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a non -profit organization that provides information on health issues in the nation.

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