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Medicaid director is retiring

BY Rob Christensen
by Rob Christensen on 5/11/01.

Dick Perruzzi, director of the state's Medicaid program for 23 years, will retire at the end of July, according to an internal memo sent out Wednesday by Health and Human Services Secretary Carmen Hooker Buell.

Perruzzi had planned to retire last fall, but was asked to stay on through the end of former Gov. Jim Hunt's term. When Gov. Mike Easley took over in January, Perruzzi again was asked to stay aboard - this time, through the spring and the passage of a new budget, he said.

Perruzzi said his departure has nothing to do with the current budget crisis, which is fueled in large measure by an expected $ 500 million jump in Medicaid's budget for next fiscal year. In fact, he is staying on through July to help contend with that crisis, he said.

Replacing Perruzzi will be Nina Yeager, a budget administrator with the Office of State Budget, Planning and Management. Yeager spent 12 years as a fiscal analyst for the General Assembly, and before that was a caseworker in New York and North Carolina.

The costs of Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, are skyrocketing in part because of the rising costs of prescription drugs, as well as increased participation by eligible individuals. Although lawmakers currently are considering measures to minimize the cost increase for next year, a long-term strategy to contain costs also must be devised, Hooker Buell said - and Yeager is the one to do it because of her combined financial and front-line experience, she said.

"Nina Yeager is the best person to deal with that challenge, making sure to deliver services to the people that need them in the most cost-effective way," Hooker Buell said.

Perruzzi, meanwhile, plans to remain in North Carolina, where he looks forward to "about six months of work around the house," he said. Perruzzi, who is 67, hails from Ohio and New Jersey, but calls North Carolina his home, he said.


Independents to convene:

The North Carolina Independence Party will hold its first state convention June 8-9 in the Jim Graham Building at the State Fairgrounds.

The main speaker will be John Anderson, the former congressman from Illinois and the 1980 Independent candidate for president. The state party was organized by Andy Nilsson, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for lieutenant governor last year.

Among the speakers are Duke University law professor Robinson Everett, who has launched the suit challenging the constitutionality of the 12th Congressional District.



U.S. Rep. Walter Jones of Farmville rang the bell to open the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday. He was in New York for a fund-raiser Monday night. ... Michael Weisel, a Raleigh lawyer, was recently re-elected Wake County Democratic Party chairman. Weisel was a candidate for state treasurer in 1996. ... Joyce Fernando of Wilmington attended the Rose Garden ceremony last week when President George W. Bush unveiled his commission on reforming the Social Security system. Fernando was one of four activists for the Citizens for a Sound Economy. ... Scott Falmlen, the executive director of the state Democratic Party, has been elected president of the Association of State Democratic executive directors. ... Gayle Christian, president of the Democratic Women of Wake County and a longtime activist, recently received the Mabel Claire Maddrey Award.