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Missouri House Speaker Richardson to become Medicaid chief

Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson has been appointed the next director of Missouri’s multi-billion-dollar Medicaid program, vowing to improve health care for hundreds of thousands of low-income residents while restraining rising costs.

Richardson will resign from the Legislature to start his new job Nov. 1, about two months before his term in the House was to end. He will become one of the state’s highest-paid employees.

“Our mission will be simple: It will be to ensure that we have a sustainable program that produces better health outcomes at an affordable price for Missouri taxpayers,” Richardson said at a news conference hosted by Republican Gov. Mike Parson.

Richardson, 41, is a Republican attorney from Poplar Bluff who first was elected in 2010 and was prohibited by term limits from running again in the November elections. Unlike other recent Medicaid directors, he does not have a medical degree.

Missouri’s $10.6 billion Medicaid program serves about 940,000 people and has been without a permanent director since the end of 2016, which marked the conclusion of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration.

The MO HealthNet Division functioned with acting directors after Republican Gov. Eric Greitens took office in 2017. Parson, who was lieutenant governor, became chief executive June 1 when Greitens resigned while facing allegations of sexual and political misconduct.

Parson said it was a priority for him to fill the position. He praised Richardson as a leader with “personal integrity” and “bipartisan respect” whom he wanted in his administration “because he truly just cared about Missouri.”

Richardson will earn $225,000 annually as director of the MO HealthNet Division. That’s almost six times his $38,415 salary as House speaker and well more than the $133,821 paid to Parson or the $181,677 to state Supreme Court Chief Justice Zel Fischer, according to the official state manual. University of Missouri system President Mun Choi receives a salary of $530,000 annually.

Department of Social Services Director Steve Corsi, who oversees the Medicaid division, said the substantial salary is appropriate for the large job and within the upper range of what other state Medicaid directors earn.

Richardson’s legislative tenure has included plenty of experience in crisis management.

Richardson was elevated from Republican majority leader to House speaker in May 2015 during the final days of the annual legislative session following the abrupt resignation of then-Speaker John Diehl Jr., who acknowledged sending sexually suggestive text messages to a House intern. Richardson then led an update of the House’s sexual harassment policy.

Earlier this year, Richardson appointed a special House panel to investigate Greteins after media reported details about Greitens’ extramarital affair in 2015 and his use of a charity donor list for his gubernatorial campaign. Under Richardson’s leadership, the Legislature had convened a special session for the House to consider whether to impeach Greitens in a quest to oust him from office. That ended when Greitens decided to voluntarily leave.