Atchinson tapped to lead Member Engagement Workshop

BY CASSIDY RILEY | JULY 31, 2013 5:00 AM

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State officials hope to increase the affordability and availability of public health care, and the Iowa Department of Human Services has commissioned the help of Christopher Atchison, the director of the Institute for Public Health Practice at the University of Iowa.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan will come into full effect. It extends Medicaid to adults between the ages of 19 and 64 with an income up to or at 133 percent of the federal poverty level. As part of participation in Medicaid, the members will be required to engage in preventative practices such as quitting smoking; otherwise, members will face a monthly charge.

Atchison said the job of the Member Engagement Workgroup is to find strategies for the Iowa Department of Human Services to best encourage members to participate in these activities.

“I hope by virtue of my background that we would begin to look pretty broadly at all of the elements that are necessary for members to engage [in,]” he said. “I hope it would extend into accessibility [to those elements.]”

Atchison has been working in public health for 25 years. He served as the state health director from 1991 to 1999, and he has worked at the UI since then, currently as director of the State Hygienic Lab.

Jay Hansen, executive director for Prairie Ridge Addiction Treatment Services, said he has known Atchison for many years, and he looks forward to working with him again.

“One of the reasons I agreed to serve on this committee was due to his leadership,” Hansen said. “I think his work with public health is uniquely qualifying him to inform how public health can play a role and will play a role in preventing chronic disease.”

The group met for the first time on July 25, and Pat Giorgio, the president and CEO of Evergreen Estates, a senior living facility, said she was immediately impressed with Atchison.

“I was struck right away by how he shows such clear signs of a leader,” she said. “He was an active listener to everyone’s opinions but also managed to make sure we stayed on task, which is not an easy thing to do.”

Giorgio said in terms of coming up with strategies to encourage participation in preventative practices, it is important to make sure the information provided is easily understood.

“Sometime the biggest challenge with wellness I find is people don’t want to be preached to, and we need to make sure the message makes sense,” she said.

This group is one of five that are a part of a $1.3 million State Innovation Models Grant intended to help Iowa increase availability to public health care while curbing costs.

Atchison said the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan is Iowa’s current take on achieving this goal for Medicaid. Recommendations from the workgroups will also contribute to the creation of a State Health Care Innovation Plan to affect all public-health care in Iowa.

Lance Horbach, a senior living care specialist insurance agent, worked in the Iowa Legislature for 14 years before retiring. He said he hopes to contribute to the group through his experience and connections in the Legislature.

“I think one thing I can bring to the table that others cannot is a 14-year history of trying to regulate others’ actions, which is essentially what laws do,” he said.

Horbach said he, too, was impressed with Atchison’s leadership style and that he is the best person who could have been chosen to chair the committee.

“He knows what he’s talking about,” Horbach said. “He allowed everyone to partake. I really admire his style. Iowa will benefit from his leadership.”

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