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Kotek taps former aide to help with health care

Kristina Narayan has worked in and around Salem and Oregon health care for much of her career
Portrait photo of a young-looking dark-haired woman
Former legislative aide Kristina Narayan is going back to work for Tina Kotek, now in the governor's office. | COURTESY OF CAREOREGON
August 24, 2023
This article has been updated to incorporate additional reporting.

Gov. Tina Kotek has hired Kristina Narayan, a longtime Salem insider and specialist in health care policy, to be her health policy advisor in Salem, The Lund Report has learned.

Narayan has spent the last eight months as vice president of public policy at CareOregon, the nonprofit that serves members of the Medicaid-funded Oregon Health Plan and Medicare.

Before that, she spent 10 months working for Speaker Dan Rayfield as legislative director and a senior advisor. Previously, she worked for Kotek for more than five years, starting as a health care policy advisor before moving to become deputy legislative director, then legislative director.

Kotek’s office has not formally announced Narayan’s selection. Asked about her hire by The Lund Report, a spokesperson issued a statement: 

“Kristina brings a wide array of experience from working directly with community, leading policy conversations at the legislature, and working within Oregon’s healthcare system to improve patient access to quality care. We are excited to bring her aboard to apply her skills to serving Oregonians.”

While her work takes place mostly out of public view, in 2020 Narayan's arrest by Portland police made headlines. It came at a protest against police violence in which Narayan told reporters she was not engaging with police or was even part of the crowd they'd wanted to disperse when officers declared a riot. Charges were dropped, and controversy over the arrest of Narayan and others led the Oregon Legislature to subsequently change the statute that had given officers broad discretion to arrest people with scant justification for “interfering with a peace officer."

Narayan, who starts after Labor Day, declined to comment on her new job.

The state has a great deal of sway over CareOregon, which is among the insurers that serve low-income people enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan. Kotek has urged the insurers to spend more on behavioral health and housing after they made major profits during the pandemic.

The state is currently reviewing the proposed merger of CareOregon with SCAN, a California-based nonprofit specializing in Medicare, which has raised concerns the Oregon organization's reserves — garnered from its operations as a contractor for the state — could be used elsewhere. The nonprofits' leaders say the merger would improve care and help Oregonians.

Jeremiah Rigsby, CareOregon chief of staff, said in an email that “Kristina made a tremendous impact at CareOregon during her time here. Her leadership will be noticeably missed. We are confident her transition to the executive branch will be seamless as CareOregon’s work to support the coordinated care model and our members aligns with the state’s goals.” 

Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, who chairs the House Committee on Behavioral Health and Health Care, said he's glad Narayan is back working with Kotek. “She's smart and works hard,”  he said.

You can reach Nick Budnick at [email protected] or at @NickBudnick on Twitter.