Desantis Picks AHCA Chief, Backs Young at Visit Florida
DESANTIS PICKS AHCA CHIEF, BACKS YOUNG AT VISIT FLORIDA
January 4, 2019Christine SextonJim Turner
TALLAHASSEE --- Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis on Friday named an ardent opponent of Medicaid expansion to lead the state Agency for Health Care Administration and backed former state Sen. Dana Young to lead the tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida.

DeSantis tapped Mary Mayhew, a former Maine health official who most recently has worked in President Donald Trump’s administration, to serve as secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Young, a Tampa Republican who in November lost a nail-bitter in her bid to remain in the Senate, was recommended by DeSantis to take over Visit Florida, whose president and CEO Ken Lawson is moving to the Department of Economic Opportunity.

In a prepared statement, DeSantis said Mayhew will bring “bold and talented leadership” to the Agency for Health Care Administration.

“Mary Mayhew is a proven innovator and an effective leader in the field of health care," DeSantis, who will take office Tuesday, said. "Mary will be an outstanding secretary who will bring bold and tested leadership to the agency."

During the 2018 gubernatorial campaign, DeSantis and Lt. Gov-elect Jeanette Nunez adamantly opposed expanding Medicaid to about 700,000 working uninsured adults who would qualify if Florida approved an expansion under the federal health care law known as Obamacare.

Prior to Trump appointing her late last year to a post at the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Mayhew served as commissioner of health and human services under Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who tightened Medicaid eligibility requirements.

In Friday’s announcement, DeSantis said Mayhew was responsible for bringing “innovative reforms” to Maine’s social services programs. She will replace outgoing AHCA Secretary Justin Senior, who has taken a job with the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida.

AHCA has oversight of Florida's $26 billion Medicaid program. Economists predict there will be nearly 3.9 million elderly, poor and disabled people enrolled in the program this year, the majority of them enrolled in Medicaid managed-care plans.

Mayhew comes to the agency as it is finalizing a transition to new five-year Medicaid contracts with managed-care plans. She also will be responsible for implementing a controversial change to eliminate Medicaid “retroactive eligibility,” a move that outgoing Gov. Rick Scott pushed as a way to save about $100 million. It was blessed by the Trump administration late last year.

AHCA also has regulatory oversight of the state’s health-care facilities, from nursing homes to hospices to hospitals.

The DeSantis administration’s courting of Mayhew was first reported Friday by The News Service of Florida in its health-care newsletter, The Weekly CheckUp.

While Mayhew will be new to Florida government, Young would bring several years of legislative experience to the role leading state tourism efforts.

The Visit Florida Board of Directors is scheduled to hold a conference call Monday afternoon to discuss a replacement for Lawson, who was paid $165,000 a year by the public-private agency.

In backing Young for the job, DeSantis pointed to her “leadership ability and experience” as being pluses to help the agency “maximize the economic impact of travel and tourism to our state.”

Young tweeted Friday she was “honored and excited” by the nomination.

Young, an attorney, lost to Tampa Democrat Janet Cruz by 411 votes out of 207,745 cast in the Senate District 18 race in November. The contest was one of the most closely watched --- and expensive --- legislative races in the state.

Young served in the House from 2010 through 2016, when she was elected to the Senate. In her final two years in the House, she served as the majority leader.

Under Scott, Visit Florida has seen its annual budget grow from $35 million in 2011 to $76 million for the current fiscal year, while the estimated number of tourists to the state has increased from 87.3 million to 116.5 million in 2017.

Lawson was secretary of the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation until January 2017, when he was brought to Visit Florida as the tourism agency faced questions about its spending. DeSantis recently chose him to be executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity.