By Richard Asinof
By Richard Asinof
(Updated, Friday, 8:48 a.m.)
PROVIDENCE – Dr. Kathleen Hittner has been nominated by Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee to replace Christopher F. Koller as Rhode Island’s health insurance commissioner, the governor’s press office announced Thursday afternoon.
President and CEO of The Miriam Hospital from 2000 to 2009, Hittner served for more than three decades in the hospital sector before retiring as Lifespan’s senior vice president of community health and perioperative services on Oct. 17, 2012.
Hittner, who received her M.D. from Tufts University School of Medicine, also served as chief of anesthesiology at both Roger Williams Medical Center and The Miriam Hospital. She is currently on the faculty of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University as a clinical professor of surgery in anesthesiology.
Both Chafee and Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts praised Hittner as a highly capable candidate to replace Koller, who is scheduled to leave at the end of the month to become president of the Milbank Memorial Fund, a health think tank in New York City.
“Dr. Hittner is a widely respected medical professional with decades of relevant experience in Rhode Island’s health care industry,” Chafee said. “Commissioner Koller – the nation’s first health insurance commissioner – has performed with distinction and is leaving big shoes to fill. I am confident that in Dr. Hittner we have found a highly capable and knowledgeable candidate to lead this important office in the years to come.”
Chafee said that he looked forward to working with Hittner to continue Rhode Island’s national leadership in implementation of federal health care reform and making quality health care more affordable and accessible for Rhode Island families and employers.
Roberts welcomed Hittner to the state’s health care team. “The health insurance commissioner is a critical role for businesses, for health care providers and for the future of our health care system,” said Roberts. “I applaud Gov. Chafee’s appointment and welcome Dr. Hittner to the health care team. Rhode Islanders can look forward to her leadership as together, we work to reshape the health care system to improve the health of Rhode Islanders while managing costs for businesses and families.”
Edward Quinlan, president of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, offered praise for the selection of Hittner. “I think it’s an outstanding selection by the governor. She has had a remarkable career, personally and professionally. She has demonstrated leadership as a physician among her peers.”
The pace of change in health care, Quinlan continued, “is unparalleled in our history. Those challenging times will continue under Dr. Hittner, and she is more than capable of meeting those challenges.”
Stacy Paterno, the spokeswoman for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, the state’s largest health insurer, said that Blue Cross “looks forward to continuing our collaborative work with the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner with the appointment of a new commissioner.”
Ted Almon, president and CEO of Claflin Co. and co-chair of the HealthRIght executive committee, called Hittner a widely respected leader in the state’s health care community. “I’m sure all stakeholders will appreciate her objectivity and intimate knowledge of the system,” Almon said. “She has been spectacularly successful in her leadership of The Miriam Hospital. I am hopeful she will be able to build the consensus necessary to continue the progress Chris Koller has achieved to this point.”
Hittner’s nomination comes at a critical time for the implementation of health care reform in Rhode Island.
In his last few weeks as commissioner, Koller will be presiding over a series of key decisions regarding the rates that will be approved for health insurance plans offered on the R.I. Health Benefits Exchange.