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New AHCA Secretary Has Fans, Detractors

Mary Mayhew
Mary Mayhew

While Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that Mary Mayhew will take the helm at the state Agency for Health Care Administration, it hasn’t been made clear when she will begin the job or how much she will earn.

What is crystal clear, though, is DeSantis is thrilled that Mayhew, who for three months headed the federal Medicaid program, is Florida-bound.

"To be able to bring somebody who is in that position, who is interested in coming to Florida, I think that was really, really, positive for us. She obviously has relationships with folks at CMS and in the administration,” DeSantis said Friday, referring to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in the Trump administration.

Known as Mary "mayhem" by her detractors, Mayhew served as Commissioner of Health and Human Services under former Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Tarren Bragdon, who co-chaired LePage's transition team at the time, recommended her for the Maine job.

Bragdon left Maine in 2011 and moved to Naples, where he founded the Foundation for Government Accountability, which touts itself as a think tank but has come under fire by Jim McGann, the director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, among others, for its work.

Bragdon's work also was a centerpiece in Florida’s defense of a mandatory drug testing law for people receiving welfare that was challenged by a single father. Then-Attorney General Pam Bondi defended the law and included documents from Bragdon's report in court filings. A federal judge in 2013 said there was no justification for the state to require “warrantless, suspicionless drug testing.” An appeals court sided with the judge, and the state ultimately paid $1.5 million in legal fees to the lawyers who sued the state.

Bragdon was a member of a DeSantis transition advisory committee on health and wellness. He told The News Service of Florida on Thursday that he did not directly recommend Mayhew for the Florida post.

But he’s been impressed by her throughout the 15 years they have worked together. He dismissed the name-calling from “trolls” who are attacking her before she steps foot in Tallahassee.

“I know Mary Mayhew will lead AHCA with a focus on taking care of the vulnerable, maintaining the integrity of Medicaid, and focusing on how to meet the expanding need of a growing, dynamic, diverse state like Florida,” he said, describing the type of secretary she would be. “That was her track record in Maine, and that will continue to be her track record in her new post.”

The Agency for Health Care Administration has a $28.9 billion annual budget this year. The majority of that is related to running the Medicaid program, but AHCA also is charged with health-care facility regulation.

While in Maine, Mayhew was responsible for Medicaid eligibility determination, but AHCA does not control that in Florida. It is the responsibility of the Department of Children and Families, a separate agency.

While Bragdon is a fan, others have sharply criticized Mayhew on a number of fronts.

When she stepped down from her post in Maine, LePage issued a statement praising her for implementing welfare changes while acknowledging that she was a “lightning rod for constant criticism from the media, liberal legislators and the special interests who wanted to protect and grow Maine’s entitlement programs.”

Mayhew also came under heat for a no-bid contract for a review of welfare programs awarded to The Alexander Group. Ultimately, the state had to cancel the contract after news broke that parts of the report produced by the firm were plagiarized.

Mayhew signed the contract based on the recommendation of Sam Adolphsen, who was her director of strategic development. Adolphsen now works with Bragdon at the Foundation for Government Accountability.

Bragdon dismissed Mayhew’s critics and tossed aside any notion that he’ll have increased favor with the administration because of his long-standing relationship with her.

“It’s not as if what I want or what one organization wants goes. It goes through a deliberative process where it’s highly debated,” he said.” I’ll certainly make our opinion known, but there are a lot of different factors of what policy ultimately gets implemented in Florida.”

Copyright 2019 Health News Florida

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