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Tom Watkins
Tom Watkins

Their Legacy Lives On

January 12, 2017 

I first came to Michigan State government with the incoming Blanchard Administration in the early 1980’s – more than 30 years ago. My career with the state began at a higher level than most 20-somethings of the time when I became Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor. Subsequently, I moved on to become Deputy Director of Administration, Chief Deputy and then Director of the then-Department of Mental Health between 1983-1990.

Time moves forward inexorably and so do people. Since those early career days, I first came, then left state government and the Lansing scene, eventually serving as State Superintendent of Schools from 2001-2005. Along the way, I have worked with some exceptionally hard-working, smart, dedicated, decent people. People of integrity, who toil outside of the spotlight, delivering solid public policy and services to the people of Michigan.

I have also seen political appointees, lobbyists, legislative staffers and good old-fashioned civil servants come and go over the years.

This year we are losing to retirement a decent, good man who has contributed mightily since beginning his career back in 1975 as a legislative specialist with a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation project. All the while working on his master’s degree in public health from the University of Michigan.

As reported in Crain’s Detroit Business, Rick Murdock, longtime director of the Michigan Association of Health Plans, announced his retirement at its annual meeting in Traverse City. Murdock has been with MAHP since 2002, first as deputy director then, in 2004, as Executive Director. He served as Director of the Health Plan Division at the Michigan Department of Community Health from 1997 to 2002 and has worked in state government for 25 years. Murdock will remain with MAHP throughout 2017 working on special projects. His deputy, and equally competent leader, Dominick Pallone succeeds him.


The Battle of “298”

One ‘special project’ Rick will be working on is the implementation of recommendations of the “298 Workgroup,” or the integration of behavioral and physical healthcare in Michigan. We can use his vision and tenacity to help us reach a value-added public policy that’s not simply about change, but progress for the people we serve.

It was through the “298 War” that I became re-acquainted with Rick this past year – not on the most pleasant of terms. Then it appeared that his association had orchestrated a coup to move $2.4 billion that had been overseen by the public community mental health system since the President Kennedy days from public control to the health insurance industry. There were screams of “profitization” of mental health care by advocates across the state.

How the Battle Began

Governor Snyder’s proposed 2017 budget caused quite a stir in the mental health community. The budget bill called for taking $2.4 billion from the public mental health system and turning it over to private insurance companies/Medicaid Health Plans. Specifically, Section 298 calls for “carving in” behavioral health benefits to the health plans by September 30, 2017.

Right or wrong, a “carve-in” is feared by parents and advocates that the public mental health safety net will be ripped to shreds. Family members worried about losing long-term relationships with trusted providers and new rules that limit service. Given the struggles to get what they have, their worries are not without merit.

With public outcry and the leadership of Lt. Gov Brian Calley and legislative leaders, the move to implement 298 has been temporarily placed on hold. Yet, many realize while there this is but a momentary reprieve – the struggle to find ways to truly integrate care and allocate management of the system rages on.

A Laudable Goal

The goal of 298 to integrate care is certainly laudable and it is not IF this goal will be reached, but only how and when.

The initial conversation Rick and I had on this contentious topic was through rhetorical quotes between us, and members and advocates on both sides of the debate.

We decided that punching each other through the media was not productive and so we began to meet and communicate regularly. Clearly, we both saw the value of care integration even if we differed some on how to make it happen. We began working towards a sensible solution in order to maximize the value of the public dollar and enhance care to some of the state’ most vulnerable citizens.

As my first boss told me, “If we both agree on everything, one of us is not necessary. As 298 pilot proposals are debated, I suspect Rick and I won’t necessarily see eye-to eye. That is okay, we will have a health debate about how to enhance quality care while providing value to the taxpayer.

A Value Added Career

Rick’s career has been about adding value and making a difference.

Jim Haveman, former Director of Community Health was quoted in Crain’s Detroit Business, “Rick was a key architect (of the Medicaid managed care program) and had to work with a lot of new companies, Midwest, Meridian, Blue Cross. Haveman said, “He was always knowledgeable, informed, creative, smart and loyal. We never had to worry about what he was doing. He knew policy and financing and enjoyed health care. It was always about the consumer and how to improve wellness.”

Bob Sheehan, CEO of the Michigan Association of Community Mental Health whose members were at odds this past year with the organization Murdock led, had this to say about his tenure as a health leader in Michigan, “Rick Murdock, over the decades of his career, has been committed to ensuring that access to health care is a right not a privilege; a right that he worked to extend to as many Michiganders as possible.”

Steve Fitton, Principal, Health Management Associates, and former director of Michigan Medicaid (2009 – 2015), a health care leader in his own right, had this to say about his colleague, “Rick Murdock has had a major influence on the health care landscape in Michigan for the past three decades. He has been consistent in pushing for action to resolve the next difficult set of issues and should take as much credit as anyone for the development and maturation of Michigan’s very effective Medicaid managed care system.”

Lt. Gov Brian Calley sums up Rick’s legacy, “Rick is problem solver. No matter which side of the table he is on, you could always count on him to come to the table, work in good faith, and in the end, find a solution.”

You can’t ask for more than that.

Rick Murdock may be stepping down from his role as Executive Director of Michigan Association of Health Plans (MAHP) but the path he has blazed will be followed for years to come.

Thanks, Rick Murdock, for having made a lasting imprint on the health status of our state.

Tom Watkins eclectic career in leadership spans government, healthcare, politics, business, K-12 and higher education. He is the President and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. His other passion is China-watching. See his China work at CHINA US Focus
He can be emailed at:, or followed on twitter at:@tdwatkins88

January 11, 2017 · Filed under Tom Watkins

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Clinton Galloway // Jan 13, 2017 at 9:46 am

    Thank you for writing this Tom. Coming from the pen of one whom I’ve learned to trust and respect while focusing on one who has, as you noted, not been spoken of in the highest regard by some in the public mental health sector, I find this to be a very illuminating tribute. Your writing exemplifies the spirit that is sorely needed in these contentious times. I am not only indebted to you, but to Rick in the endeavor to continually improve the accessibility and quality of health care for all of us. Thank you!

  • 2 Clinton Galloway // Jan 14, 2017 at 10:35 am

    Thank You Tom! I am deeply indebted to you for writing this informative story of the legacy of Rick Murdoch. It exemplifies a spirit that is sorely needed in much of the public discourse that monopolizes the current media. So much of what we read or hear is contentious, appealing to the baser emotions of which we are all ably endowed. Invariably this incites the very attitude we so despise, that which divides and separates, transforming us into the very devils we seek to eradicate. Sharing your journey with Rick takes us down a higher road that rises above partisan and personal issues, seeking common ground. When confronted by significant changes in the administrative structures for the delivery of health care proposed in the now infamous “section 298” of Governor Snyder’s proposed 2017 budget the ground started shaking! In retrospect, health care, albeit presently constituted by a confusing maze of disparate parts, is the ideal arena to discover how we can become better connected; the literal meaning of ‘health’ is to be whole. The defining principle, whether we are focusing on individuals or entire societies is integration. As you confess, “We decided that punching each other through the media was not productive and so we began to meet and communicate regularly.” Healing has ensued. The story of our Humanity, indeed, the Universe Story is the inexorable march of transcending and including, leading to deeper and more complex relationships. The desire to come together is written deep within our DNA. Times of turbulence are significant opportunities to awaken to these matters of the heart, to transcend and include, indeed they may be the essential triggers. They are signals that the time is ripe for the cultivation of the patience that enables us to see and listen to one another. This requires coming out from behind our barricades over which we fly our partisan flags. To engage in “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” will only exacerbate what afflicts the common body. Your tribute to Rick Murdoch marshals the steps in which we need to engage as we continue to improve the accessibility and quality of health not only for all individuals but for our entire society. Thank You!



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