State Politics

DeSantis picks Trump Medicaid official who opposed expansion to run healthcare agency

Mary Mahew responds to questions after being named commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services by Maine Gov. Paul LePage at the State House in Augusta, Maine, in 2011.
Mary Mahew responds to questions after being named commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services by Maine Gov. Paul LePage at the State House in Augusta, Maine, in 2011. AP

Governor-elect Ron DeSantis has tapped Mary Mayhew, a top Medicaid official in the Trump administration who has long opposed expansion under the Affordable Care Act, to run the state’s healthcare agency.

Mayhew, who was chosen to lead the safety-net program at the federal level in October, will now head up the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), which oversees the state’s Medicaid program as well as hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

Mayhew was the commissioner for health and human services in Maine for seven years under former Republican Gov. Paul LePage and helped push to tighten eligibility standards for Medicaid and add restrictions to its food stamp and welfare programs. During that time, the state’s spending on safety-net programs shrank significantly and Medicaid enrollment declined, which critics said weakened those programs, but LePage’s administration praised her for controlling the department’s spending.

During her time as Maine’s healthcare chief, Mayhew took her message opposing Medicaid expansion to other states, including Utah and Florida. In 2013, she testified by Skype before a Florida Senate committee against increasing Medicaid eligibility, according to the Portland Press Herald at the time.

Mayhew stepped down from her post as commissioner in mid-2017 to run to succeed LePage as governor, though she finished third in the Republican primary the following year.

She was critical of a 2017 ballot initiative approved by voters to expand Medicaid, and LePage resisted the measure until he left office. She was then selected three months ago to join the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which manages the programs at the federal level.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma praised Mayhew’s efforts in a statement on her resignation Friday: “I am excited for Mary as she transitions to serve Governor-elect DeSantis and the people of Florida,” she said. “I appreciate her efforts at CMS and I look forward to continuing to work with her as she uses her many talents to help the state of Florida create a healthcare system that serves the needs of its citizens.”

Mayhew grew up in Pittsfield and was a longtime lobbyist for the Maine Hospital Association before she joined LePage’s administration in 2011.

In a statement regarding her resignation, she hinted at her focus when she starts work in Florida: “I will forever be grateful to Administrator Seema Verma for allowing me the opportunity to serve this Administration and to help her advance her vision of supporting states with increased control over their Medicaid programs to better meet the healthcare needs of their citizens,” Mayhew said. “It is this vision for state flexibility that excites me about returning to the state level to help Governor-elect DeSantis partner with Administrator Verma to serve the citizens of Florida.”

She is the third former Trump official to take a job with the DeSantis administration: Mark Inch, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and a retired two-star Army general, will lead the Florida Department of Corrections, and Helen Aguirre Ferré, a White House alum, was named the governor-elect’s director of communications.

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