Governor-elect Maura Healey has named Mary Beckman as acting secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, as she takes more time to permanently fill one of the most consequential roles in her Cabinet.
Beckman, who most recently served as chief of the Health Care and Fair Competition Bureau in the attorney general’s office, will ultimately serve as senior advisor to the health and human services secretary.
“The programs and services of EOHHS are instrumental in providing the treatment, care, and support that our most vulnerable residents need,” said Healey in a statement to the Globe. “I am thrilled that Mary will serve as Acting Secretary to continue this critical work and lend her years of leadership and health care experience to uplift our communities and take on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”
Current HHS Secretary Marylou Sudders, who has been the longest-serving person in the role, will stay on temporarily in an advisory role to ensure a smooth transition, Healey’s team confirmed.
Beckman, a graduate of Yale Law School, has held a number of roles within the health care sector over her decades in the industry. As chief of the Health Care and Fair Competition Bureau, she oversaw approximately 100 staff members in five divisions of the attorney general’s office, including nonprofits and public charities, health care, Medicaid fraud, antitrust, and false claims. Her work has included investigation and litigation related to the opioid crisis, the Affordable Care Act, health care organization and consolidation, price fixing among generic drug makers, and telecommunications consolidation.
Prior roles have included chief of the nonprofit organizations/public charities division in the attorney general’s office, chief compliance officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, and assistant secretary for health policy for the state from 1999 to 2002. As assistant secretary for health policy, she advised the HHS secretary and governor on Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, one of the state’s largest insurers, as it was being put under state receivership because of financial issues.
Beckman will now oversee the state’s largest single department. The massive job presides over 12 agencies, two soldiers’ homes, and the state’s Medicaid program. It is involved in everything from children in protective custody to elder affairs. With a combined budget of more than $27 billion, the department accounts for over half of the state’s spending.
As an interim, Beckman will steer the ship at a precarious time in health care, in the midst of an ongoing pandemic that many worry could still result in a winter surge of the virus, and as large sectors of the health care economy struggle with staffing shortages and financial difficulties.
The state also just launched a new “front door” to behavioral health services as part of its reform of mental health care.
Additionally, the state is getting ready to implement a newly awarded waiver from the federal government. The waiver will allow MassHealth to continue the reforms it began five years ago, in which MassHealth sought to change the reimbursement structure for insurers and providers to increase the focus on quality and equity, and emphasize primary care and behavioral health care.
The industry is also waiting on notice from the federal government as to when the federal public health emergency will expire, which will prompt MassHealth to begin verifying the eligibility of the millions of people using state insurance.
It was unclear why Healey chose to appoint an acting secretary to the role, instead of naming a permanent one. Despite outpacing her Republican opponent in the governor’s race for months in fund-raising and polling, Healey has been so far slow to name members of her Cabinet. A day before her inauguration, she had four out of 12 appointments outstanding: for public safety and security, labor and workforce development, veterans services, and the new post of housing secretary, a position she promised during her campaign.
While work continues to find a permanent person for the position, several health care executives and experts said they were pleased Beckman would take on the role in the immediate term.
“She’s the perfect person to step in at this time,” said Dr. Eric Dickson, CEO of UMass Memorial Health, who served on the safe and healthy communities for all ages transition committee for the incoming Healey administration. “She has extensive experience in this area.”
Lora Pellegrini, CEO of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans who also served on the safe and healthy communities committee, said Beckman was an “excellent choice,” adding that she was thoughtful, smart, and compassionate.