As secretary of Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration, Alan Levine became the public champion of the state's fiercely debated bid to overhaul Medicaid.
When critics attacked Gov. Jeb Bush's plan as too risky for the most vulnerable patients, it was Levine who aggressively lobbied for change. "It is a hot seat," admits Florida Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings of Levine's job as Bush's healthcare spokesman, legislative point man and top regulator.
A former hospital chief executive officer, Levine, 38, succeeds thanks to his intelligence and skills as a communicator and negotiator. "Alan is just a down-to-earth, likable, well-informed communicator of the governor's policies," Jennings says.
Levine joined Gov. Bush's administration in February 2003 as the health policy adviser and deputy chief of staff. That job, which he held until moving to his present post in June 2004, gave Levine oversight of six state health, aging and social service agencies. Levine spent roughly 10 years in Florida's private healthcare sector before switching to the public sphere.
The University of Florida graduate started as chief operating officer at 290-bed Regional Medical Center-Bayonet Point in Hudson, Fla., then took a series of top management positions at Florida hospitals, finally landing as CEO of 112-bed South Bay Hospital in Sun City Center from June 2000 to January 2003.
Levine's work as a hospital executive led to his public service career, he says. "You're out in the community," as a hospital CEO, he says. "You've got a platform to make a difference." Levine took a pay cut and moved his family to join Bush's staff. "I did it because I feel strongly that if you want to do this job, you have to have a servant's heart."
What's next for Levine? He's not sure. "My first priority is what's best for my family," he says. "Beyond that, I want to focus and do a good job on what I'm doing now."
There's plenty to focus on as Florida finalizes its request to federal regulators to revamp Medicaid. Florida legislators gave the plan preliminary approval, but must still agree to the deal's details once it clears the CMS.
Even then, Gov. Bush's overhaul faces hurdles. Legislative critics of the market-driven plan -- which would move most Medicaid enrollees in two counties into managed-care or similar insurance plans -- insisted on oversight as the experiment continues.
Levine's passion for healthcare stems from his mother's death when he was just 6. "I remember as if it were yesterday," he says. "I remember being very angry that the doctors could not save her life."
Levine says he sees the governor's Medicaid overhaul as needed, not only to rein in its spiraling budget but to improve enrollees' health.
Jennings says no matter where Levine lands next, his work in government will leave a mark on Florida's citizens. "Florida will be a healthier place when he leaves, with potentially a more affordable delivery system," she says.