Gov. Ron DeSantis’ controversial choice to run the state Agency for Health Care Administration --- and the massive Medicaid program --- was approved Wednesday by the Florida Senate.
The Senate voted 26-13 to confirm former Trump administration health-care official Mary Mayhew and 10 other agency heads appointed by DeSantis.
Several Democrats spoke on the Senate floor against Mayhew’s confirmation. A political lightning rod of sorts, Mayhew sat stoically in the Senate chamber and watched.
“I think we have the opportunity to slow down,” said Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, speaking against Mayhew’s confirmation.
Gibson noted that Mayhew could serve in her capacity as AHCA secretary without Senate confirmation for two legislative sessions. That means Mayhew could lead AHCA through March 2020 without confirmation.
“There’s nothing wrong with taking our time,” she said.
DeSantis issued a statement following the vote thanking the Senate for confirming his agency heads.
“I am proud of the team we have assembled to lead our agencies, which include some of the brightest minds and leaders our state and nation have to offer,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement. “I’d like to thank the Florida Senate for confirming my appointments and for recognizing their leadership and talent. I am confident they will advance our shared mission to serve and protect Floridians.”
Senate Democrats pointed to several red flags in opposing the confirmation of Mayhew, who was a top health official in Maine before joining the Trump administration. One issue was a federal audit of a community-based program for people with developmental disabilities in Maine between 2013 and 2015. Mayhew was the secretary of the Maine health and social services agency that had oversight of the program.
The audit found that under Mayhew’s watch, the health, safety, and welfare of 2,640 children in the program was potentially jeopardized.
“In terms of health outcomes, the experience of the secretary in Maine could not be a stronger cautionary tale for us,” Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, said.
While in Maine, Mayhew also came under heat for administrative issues, including a no-bid contract for a review of welfare programs. Ultimately, the state had to cancel the contract after news broke that parts of the report produced by the contracted firm were plagiarized.
“A lot of the indication is very clear, particularly given the path through the Trump administration is ideologically motivated,” Rodriguez said of Mayhew’s appointment. “And this is as concerning with an agency that is tasked with things as critical as administering programs for our most needy, our most dependent Floridians. We cannot take this risk.”
Though several Senate Democrats spoke against her confirmation, Democrats Bill Montford of Tallahassee, Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg and Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens voted for Mayhew.
Montford indicated he was less concerned with politics and more interested in Mayhew’s administrative skills. After meeting with her, Montford said, he was on board.
“I’m convinced that she’ll do a good job,” Montford told The News Service of Florida. “There’s nothing wrong with being partisan so long as it doesn’t get in the way of doing a good job.”
Early in the confirmation process, Rouson opposed Mayhew’s confirmation. His opposition softened, though, after Mayhew announced she would put the brakes on Medicaid reimbursement cuts for behavioral-analysis providers who treat children with autism. Rouson’s son has autism.
Subsequent to that announcement, AHCA announced it was moving ahead with two far-reaching pilot projects, the effects of which could make it more difficult to obtain the services, providers of behavioral-analysis services have argued.
Rouson said he was unaware of the pilot programs but told the News Service he will be watching Mayhew closely.
“I’m willing to be cautious in my yes (vote), but I would be a nightmare to her if she went back on her word or really started hurting our vulnerable populations,” Rouson said.