Advocates for the needy say Governor-elect Ron DeSantis’s pick to lead the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration is a hardline conservative who fought expanding Medicaid for people who are too poor to afford a doctor and slashed food assistance and other safety-net programs while serving in Maine.
Mary Mayhew is coming to Florida from a short stint in the Trump administration, where she served just three months as Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Before that, she worked as a hospital association lobbyist, as Maine’s Commissioner of Health and Human Services (2011-2017), and was a Republican candidate for Maine governor who lost in last fall’s primary election. (Mayhew finished third among four Republican primary candidates: a Democrat took the Governor’s Mansion).
The DeSantis transition team says Mayhew was awarded the Freedom & Opportunity Award from the Maine Heritage Policy Center and the Economic Freedom Award from Americans for Prosperity (a Koch Industries group) for her accomplishments. Both groups are associated with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing, corporate-funded national group which writes and pushes legislation for state lawmakers.
Several groups who work with the poor in Maine bid Mayhew a “good riddance” when she left Health and Human Services after severely cutting programs to help the needy.
“Part of her platform (for governor) was claiming success for welfare reform, but they were promoting misinformation,” says Robyn Merrill, Executive Director of Maine Equal Justice Partners, a nonprofit legal aid provider. “The changes she made didn’t do anything to improve people’s lives. She made significant cuts to food assistance. Hunger increased, including for children.”
In an interview with a Florida-based national conservative think tank, the Foundation for Government Accountability, Mayhew defended her cuts to social safety net programs.( “Maine Shows How to make Welfare Work”).
At Preble Street, a Maine charity which works to provide food pantries and meals for the poor, advocacy director Heather Sullivan says that under Mayhew, the state cut more than 9,000 families off the food stamp program in 2015, making a spiraling situation worse.
“As the rest of the nation has continues to recover from the recession, we’re lagging behind because of policies that have been implemented in our state,” Sullivan says. “We feel like we’re in a hunger crisis right now.”
Merrill, of Maine Equal Justice Partners, adds: “They were successful is stripping help away from lots of people, but they did nothing to help people find jobs or improve themselves. The ideology was just to make it harder for people to access services and the support that they are eligible for.”
One Democratic Maine legislator, Drew Gattine, tangled with Mayhew when he chaired the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.
“What we’ve seen over the last eight years is a gutting of a lot of services that has resulted in a lack of attention and focus on core things like protecting children, seniors and adults with developmental disabilities,” Gattine told the Maine Press-Herald.
Mayhew and Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage fought against expanding Medicaid to low-income residents who are too poor to afford a doctor. But Mainers wanted Medicaid expanded, and they successfully passed (by 60 percent) a ballot referendum in 2017 to make it happen.
That’s when LePage, Mayhew, and a minority of lawmakers refused to implement the voters’ will. Some 70,000 people, advocates say, were blocked from getting health care. A court case is ongoing.
The Bangor Daily News called the misinformation peddled by Mayhew and LePage during the Medicaid fights “entirely Orwellian” (referring to George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984).
Mayhew was part of a brief political scandal when she engineered a state contract to pay conservative activist Gary Alexander almost $1 million to write a report assessing Maine’s health care and public assistance programs, and it turned out that much of the report was plagiarized, Maine Beacon Editor Mike Tipping reported. Even after that fact came out, and some of the contract money was cancelled, Mayhew and Gov. LePage continued to cite false claims from the flawed analysis in debates and in testimony, Tipping reported. (Editor’s note: the Maine Beacon is part of The Newsroom, which is the same media network as the Florida Phoenix).
The Maine Beacon also reports that Mayhew increased copayments for prescription drugs, which affected more than 40,000 seniors and people with disabilities.
“During Mayhew’s tenure as head of Maine DHHS, the number of Maine children living in ‘deep’ poverty — meaning their families make less than half of the federal poverty line — increased at a rate that was eight times greater than that of the rest of the nation,” the Beacon reports.
Now, Mayhew will lead the agency which oversees health care and health insurance in Florida – a much larger state arena than Maine. Florida has the third-highest number of adults who lack health insurance in the country, says Scott Darius, executive director of the nonprofit Florida Voices for Health.
Some 700,000 low-income Floridians are now blocked from getting health insurance because outgoing Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican Legislature have refused to cover more people by expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The eligibility requirements for getting health care are so strict that a family of three has to make just $8,000 per year to qualify, Darius says. Poor single adults who have no children aren’t eligible at all, he says.
DeSantis also opposes expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income residents. But Florida Senate President Bill Galvano recently floated the idea of using federal block grant dollars to expand coverage, and suggested that DeSantis’s close relationship with Trump could make that happen.
Some Floridians are also planning to do what voters did in Maine, Idaho, Nebraska and Utah – bring their case to the ballot box with a Florida Constitutional amendment to expand Medicaid.
Florida Voices for Health’s Darius was diplomatic when asked about the new Agency for Health Care Administration chief.
“As a health care advocate here in Florida, I hope when she arrives and sees the level of need that exists here – in rural areas, people don’t have access to dental care, we have the third-highest number of uninsured adults in the country – that she sees that our health care system and our safety net needs to be strengthened, not cut.”