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State’s Medicaid director is leaving to take a job in the Biden administration

One of Governor Charlie Baker’s top health officials is leaving for a senior role in the Biden administration.

Daniel Tsai has been assistant secretary for MassHealth, the state Medicaid program, for more than six years. He leaves Tuesday to become deputy administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, overseeing Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

CMS officials said Tsai will lead their efforts to address health disparities and serve the needs of children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and others who rely on public health benefits.

Tsai will help shape programs that serve a record 80 million Americans. Job losses during the pandemic caused many people to lose income and health insurance and made them eligible for public health benefits.

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“As someone who has successfully led a state Medicaid program to focus on value-based care for its recipients, Dan brings invaluable experience to CMS,” CMS administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a news release.

Tsai, along with Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, spearheaded the biggest restructuring of MassHealth in two decades, shifting to new payment systems designed to reward health care providers for working to improve the health of their patients.

During Tsai’s tenure, MassHealth spent more on treatment for substance use disorder and began spending on programs that help people with nonmedical issues that affect their health, such as a lack of stable housing.

Tsai also worked to slash costs and stabilize enrollment in MassHealth, which now serves 2 million people and has an annual budget of about $19 billion, costs that are shared by the state and federal governments.

“Dan’s commitment to creating strong partnerships and increasing access to Medicaid has impacted the lives of millions of residents of the Commonwealth,” Sudders said in a statement Monday.

Amanda Cassel Kraft, the deputy MassHealth director, will become acting assistant secretary for MassHealth.

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Amy Rosenthal, executive director of the advocacy group Health Care For All, called Tsai a thoughtful and attentive leader and credited his work in addressing prescription drug costs.

“It’s great for the country and it’s great for Massachusetts,” she said of his appointment. “Dan’s going to work with a leadership team at CMS that shares the same values he has . . . I’m really excited to see what kind of new initiatives come out of this administration.”

Tsai, in a statement, said that “Health care coverage and access through Medicaid has never been more important, and I am honored to join the Biden-Harris Administration to continue working toward strengthening our nation’s Medicaid program.”


Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.