As delegates consider dividing DHHR, change would establish two secretaries leading to split

If the Legislature decides to go ahead with a proposal to split the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources in two, the agency could have two leaders working together temporarily.

The House of Delegates approved an amendment today that would establish two secretaries for the agency, with intent that they would work together before and after the rest of the agency splits.

The second secretary would be established on Jan. 1, 2023. The rest of the divide, particularly financial, would take place by July 1, 2023.

This is one significant aspect of a big change being considered by House Bill 4020, which would split the agency that takes on West Virginia’s most challenging health and human services issues. DHHR, with a $7.5 annual budget of combined state and federal money, is also West Virginia’s biggest agency financially.

As the bill has been considered by committees, delegates of both parties have expressed concern that the agency is too unwieldy for any one leader to handle its complexities. The bill is moving toward passage on Wednesday, and the amendment was approved today.

Matthew Rohrbach

House Health Chairman Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, explained the amendment. Delegate Barbara Fleischauer asked for a broader sense of what it would do.

“I just want to make sure we will be having two secretaries in the future if the bill passes,” said Fleischauer, D-Monongalia.

Rohrbach explained that the bill would split the existing agency into the Department of Health and the Department of Human Resources with the target date of July 1, 2023, the start of a new fiscal year.

“But in order that we can have as seamless a transition as possible, this bill would require the other secretary — both of them — to be in position six months prior to that date,” Rohrbach said. “And in that regard, the two secretaries can work together over that six months to get the budgetary matters and the actual separation to take effect.”

Secretary Bill Crouch

The current secretary of the entire agency, Bill Crouch, told the House Finance Committee last week that the financial separation of the agency would not be simple.

“We have 143 federal funding streams that go into DHHR,” he said. “A lot of these grants are very specific to the bureaus that they go to. Medicaid is a good example where those funds must go to the designated Medicaid agency, and changes to those funding streams the feds are very particular about where the money goes and making sure it goes to the right place.

“So with 143 funding streams, I have concerns about many of those in terms of how that change is going to happen.”

Under questioning last week by delegates who wanted to know if splitting the agency might result in additional expense, Crouch suggested that the change might cost more, citing an in-house estimate of an additional $6.3 million.

A fiscal note prepared by legislative in-house analysts estimates that additional cost would be more like $308,000. Most of that is anticipated to be a salary of $150,000 for the additional cabinet secretary.

Making reference to the agency’s overall annual budget, Crouch said, “The idea that you can take a $7.5 billion department and split it into two and just keep everything the same underneath it, I just don’t think that’s logical.”

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