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Christine C. “Christy” Ferguson, recently named the first director of the R.I. Health Benefits Exchange, is coming home – to work, that is.
Ferguson has commuted out-of-state to work much of the last decade, but says she has remained a resident of Jamestown. After she left the R.I. Department of Human Services in 2001 after a six-year stint, she worked in Boston from 2003 to 2005, serving as commissioner of the Mass. Department of Public Health under then-Gov. Mitt Romney.
Most recently, she has been working in Washington, D.C., as a professor at George Washington University, teaching about health policy and health-insurance issues.
The nation’s capital is familiar turf for Ferguson; she had spent 14 years, from 1981 to 1995, as counsel and deputy chief of staff to the late U.S. Sen. John H. Chafee.
Now, she’s back in Rhode Island, named by Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, the late senator’s son, to head the state health-benefits exchange.
PBN: What’s it like to be back in the Statehouse?
FERGUSON: It’s exhilarating and interesting and strikingly similar to [my previous time] in many ways. In terms of people, it’s very different.
PBN: How has the body politic changed since you were last here?
FERGUSON: When I left state government, the economy was in a much different place, it was a bit better. But the economy certainly permeated a lot of the conversation then. Today, frankly, the health care [costs] for small businesses become incredibly important.
The gravity and concern about economics and the state budget, those things are even more intense than when I left in the early part of 2000.
PBN: Do you think that the tenor of the partisan debate has grown more strident, both at the state and national level?
FERGUSON: The difference, from my perspective, is between the federal and state governments. At the end of the day, the state has to balance its budget. The partisanship is less permanent and the disagreements are less permanent, it’s for a time-limited period. At the state level, there has to be an agreement to close the books.