Liz Dudek, a longtime state health official who helped lead an overhaul of the Medicaid program, is retiring as secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday.
Dudek, who has served as secretary since March 2011, shortly after Scott took office, will be replaced on an interim basis by Deputy Secretary Justin Senior. Dudek's retirement from the $141,000-a-year job is effective Oct. 3.
"Liz Dudek has been a part of my team since my first year in office and has spent over four decades serving Florida families," Scott said in a prepared statement. "She cares deeply about making our state the best place for families. Under her leadership, we have worked to make hospitals more transparent and accomplished historic Medicaid reform."
The announcement did not explain Dudek's reasons for leaving the agency, which is primarily responsible for running the Medicaid program but also is involved in regulating hospitals, nursing homes and other health providers. The agency's budget this year tops $26 billion, with much of that going to Medicaid.
The Medicaid program has long been a lightning-rod issue, with many Republicans complaining about its costs and other critics taking aim at quality of care. Lawmakers and Scott in 2011 approved a controversial measure to shift most Medicaid beneficiaries into HMOs and other types of managed-care plans --- an overhaul that Dudek, Senior and other AHCA officials carried out during the next few years.
As secretary, Dudek has also been involved in high-profile funding issues, including a move by the federal government to phase out the state's "Low Income Pool" program, which has funneled additional money to hospitals that serve large numbers of uninsured and poor patients.
Dudek, who started working for the state in the mid-1970s and held a series of positions at AHCA before becoming secretary, was reconfirmed by the Senate early this year. Key lawmakers praised Dudek as she went through the confirmation process.
"The secretary is there to carry out the will of the Legislature and to carry out the law, and I would say that she does that very well, " Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican who has been heavily involved in health-care issues, said during a January committee hearing. "With the depth of her experience and her knowledge, she has put together a team that I would put up against any other state in the union."
During that January hearing, Dudek traced her lengthy career.
"I'm a lifer, and I mean that in a really good sense," she said.
Senior, an attorney, has been the agency's deputy secretary for Medicaid since 2011. Before that, he was AHCA's general counsel.
“Justin has been an integral part of AHCA's senior leadership team and has done an outstanding job running our state's Medicaid system," Scott said Wednesday. "He has been a leader in establishing our statewide Medicaid managed care system and oversaw its successful implementation in 2013 and 2014."