Roy Butler, ‘father of Medicaid’ in Kentucky, passes

Roy Butler, called “Father of Medicaid” in Kentucky, died Monday morning of complications from Parkinson’s disease. He grew up during the Great Depression on a farm in Franklin County, where he learned to work hard, reports Kristie Hamon of The State Journal. He served in the Army with occupation forces in Japan, then Georgetown College and the University of Kentucky. In 1951 he began working with the commonwealth of Kentucky; he spent more than 41 years with the state, and he prioritized “health and social programs within the Cabinet for Human Resources,” Hamon writes.

Roy Butler and his family (State Journal photo)
Butler had a very positive influence on Kentucky Medicaid. “The most satisfying aspect was being able to expand the program in terms of the number of health services being offered as well as increased benefits to the providers of care,” Butler said recently. He acknowledged co-workers’ contributions: “The second-most satisfying aspect of the job was the number of terrific, talented people that I met, especially the staff of people that I worked with such as Janie Miller and Mark Birdwhistell, and having a major impact on the direction of the program.”
Miller, a former secretary of health and family services, now runs the Kentucky Health Cooperative, a non-profit insurer created under federal health reform. Birdwhistell, a UK HealthCare executive, told Hamon, “Roy Butler is an extremely phenomenal administrator, extremely knowledgeable and hardworking. . . . I owe him a great deal of gratitude for teaching me everything I learned.”

Butler was named to UK’s College of Public Health Hall of Fame last fall. He remained married to Elise Lois Watkins Butler for 53 years until she died in 2004, and they had three children. One, Lane Butler Jacobs, recalled an occasion when he father was very upset that someone required a medical procedure and no apparent way to get it covered by Medicaid. Jacobs said she asked her father if he knew the person, and he said, “No, but then what difference would that make? What if this was your mother or your aunt or your daughter? Wouldn’t you want to do everything you could do to save their life?”

Jacobs told Hamon, “He also benefited the lives of many other people. Probably more than he can possibly imagine.” The story requires a log-in and password to view.
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