Hickenlooper names team that will guide state’s care

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s new executive team includes the people who will be shaping Colorado’s health care policy for the next four years.

Those people will be responsible, in part, for helping create the new health insurance exchanges required by federal law, as well as guiding the state’s efforts at implementing other parts of the health care reform legislation (as long as it’s not repealed, of course).

Here’s the run down:

Public health

Dr. Chris Urbina has been named executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the state’s health department.

A native of Pueblo, Urbina is now the director of Denver Public Health and Denver Health, where he is responsible for expanding the reorganization of public health services toward a more community-oriented approach.

In his new role, Urbina will also serve as the state’s chief medical officer. He is a physician and a public health expert.

Urbina has been at Denver Public Health since 2004. Among other projects, he created a partnership with Denver Environmental Health to create a public health and environmental health department for the city of Denver.

He also is the co-chairman of the statewide initiative known as the Colorado Public Health Improvement Plan, which is trying to develop a cohesive public health system in Colorado.

And he teaches introductory public health courses at the Colorado School of Public Health and at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Department of Health and Human Services

Hickenlooper went outside Colorado when he picked his new executive director for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Reggie Bicha will assume that position. He was most recently secretary of the Department of Children and Families in Wisconsin.

In 2007, Bicha became the first secretary of that department in Wisconsin, the first cabinet-level state department dedicated to improving the well-being of Wisconsin’s children. He held that job until this month, when a new governor took office.

While in Wisconsin, he created KidStat, an initiative that tracks results for children and families served by the department and holds managers accountable to improving outcomes. Thanks in part to the initiative, the number of children in foster care has dropped by 22 percent in the past two years.

Hickenlooper said that Bicha is a nationally known authority on human services.

“He brings great expertise in working with local government in a state system similar to what we have in Colorado,” he said. “Bicha led bold initiatives that restructured, retooled and reprioritized child welfare in Wisconsin.”

Health care policy and financing

Sue Birch has been named executive director of this office, which is responsible for managing state and federal health care programs — Medicare, Medicaid, Child Health Insurance Program Plus, among others.

Birch previously was CEO of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurses Association in Steamboat Springs. She also helped start a task force that focuses on Western Slope health care challenges and united 58 non-metro counties to improve health care.

Hickenlooper said she was an “expert on how to provide medical care in rural areas with limited budgets.”

She had been with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association for 17 years. Before that, she worked at Georgetown University Hospital and in a variety of nursing roles with Kaiser Permanente in Colorado.


The team, aided by leaders in the division of insurance and other areas of the state government, will formulate legislation that advances Hickenlooper’s policies on health care.

One of those priorities is the health insurance exchanges. During this legislative session, the General Assembly will have to pass governance legislation for the exchanges, which will allow state residents to compare and purchase insurance from a single location — the Internet, over the phone, in local offices.

“One of our most urgent priorities will be the passage of legislation that helps create the health insurance exchange,” said Jim Tsuchiya, field and member director for the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.

Health reform on the federal level will also require legislative and policy changes, he said, but creating the exchanges remains the “most crucial.”

“(There are) opportunities to expand coverage, increase quality and contain costs at the state level, but we have to be ready to take advantage of them,” he said.

Amy Gillentine can be reached at 719-329-5205 or at amy.gillentine@csbj.com. Friend her on Facebook.