Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson will leave the Statehouse to oversee management of the state’s low-income health-insurance program.
Gov. Mike Parson on Monday appointed Richardson, 41, director of MO HealthNet. The appointment will take effect Nov. 1, about two months before Richardson's term in the House was to end.
The position has been vacant since December 2016 — the end of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's administration — and remained unfilled during the entire year-and-a-half tenure of former Republican Gov. Eric Greitens.
MO HealthNet provides health insurance to 940,000 low-income people at a cost of $10 billion.
About 700,000 of those receive insurance through private providers that is reimbursed by the state.
“For me, this is an extension of the work I’ve done over the last eight years, which is to tackle a big, tough public policy challenge and see if we can deliver a better program for the state of Missouri than we have today,” Richardson said at a statehouse press conference.
Missouri did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act while many other states did. Richardson said he will focus on reforming the program, not expanding it.
“The goals of the program are to do as good a job as we can providing health care for the people who are eligible for the program,” Richardson said. “But we also have to make sure we do that in a financially sustainable way, or the program’s not going to exist for Missouri’s most vulnerable going forward.”
Richardson’s new salary of $225,000 is a sizable raise from his $38,415 as speaker and more than Parson’s $134,000 as the state’s chief executive. Department of Social Services Director Steve Corsi says the salary is appropriate for managing a program that encompasses 35 percent of the state’s annual budget.
“The growth in spending is affecting nearly every other area of our state’s budget,” Richardson said. “At the same time, our health outcomes with Missouri HealthNet are not where they need to be.”
Richardson plans a statewide tour after he starts the position.
Parson’s appointment caps off Richardson’s career in the House, where the Poplar Bluff native and Republican lead the chamber through some dark periods in Missouri politics.
After practicing as an attorney for a few years, Richardson won a three-way Republican primary in 2010 to represent a Missouri House district that included his hometown and part of Dunklin County.
He was easily elected House majority leader in 2015, and many expected him to become House speaker once the 2017 legislative session began. But things changed dramatically when then-House Speaker John Diehl resigned in May 2015 after he was caught sending suggestive text messages to an intern. That elevated Richardson to the speakership much earlier than he anticipated.
He was the House sponsor of a major overhaul of the second injury fund that finally got to Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk after years of inaction. He also handled a constitutional amendment that placed limits on how a governor can handle the state budget.
It was during that last year in office where Richardson was in the political spotlight. After Gov. Eric Greitens became immersed in scandal, Richardson created a House committee that looked into allegations of wrongdoing — and contemplated whether to impeach him. That committee ended up producing high-profile reports that led to a collapse in Greitens’ political support — culminating in the GOP chief executive’s resignation in June 2018.
While he considered a bid to run for state auditor, he surprised many observers when he bowed out of that contest in 2017. He told St. Louis Public Radio earlier this year that while “he loved public service,” he added, “at the end of the day, as I looked at the things that were most important to me over the next year, it was really finishing this job, and doing it the way I wanted to do it.”
Richardson was barred from running for another term in the House due to term limits. His name was bandied about as a possible replacement for Attorney General Josh Hawley if he’s successful at defeating U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.