BATON ROUGE, La. (KLFY) — Gov. John Bel Edwards announced today that he has accepted the resignation of Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee effective Jan. 31.
Gee has reportedly taken a new job, which will be announced by her employer at a later date.
“On my first day in office, I signed an executive order expanding Medicaid and since day one Dr. Gee has been on the front lines of this transformational improvement to health care in Louisiana,” said Edwards in a press release. ” Under her leadership, we brought health care to more than 460,000 hard-working adults who now have access to the medical services they need to live healthier lives, to fight chronic illness and, in some cases, survive.
Edwards also praised her work in fighting hepatitis C, opioid addiction and HIV rates in Louisiana.
“It has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of Louisiana as the Secretary of Health,” said Gee. “I am thankful to Governor Edwards and to the people of our state for trusting me to serve. The policies we advanced will continue to move the needle — policies that will result in more children growing up healthy, and mothers who can watch them grow, more individuals with disabilities living independently, and more families thriving.”
Gee’s successor wasn’t immediately named. Edwards spokeswoman Christina Stephens told the Associated Press the governor is searching for his next health secretary and only will name an interim agency leader if the search isn’t wrapped up by the end of the month when Gee is slated to exit.
“Under her leadership, we brought health care to more than 460,000 hard-working adults who now have access to the medical services they need to live healthier lives, to fight chronic illness and, in some cases, survive,” the governor said in a statement.
But that Medicaid expansion program — and the health department’s management of Medicaid as its multibillion-dollar budget ballooned to nearly half of Louisiana’s state operating budget — rankled Republicans. They criticized spending levels and questioned whether Gee did enough to respond to audits that found waste and misspending.
GOP lawmakers repeatedly grilled health department officials over Edwards’ four-year term about spending levels and about audits from Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office that documented money spent on ineligible services and that suggested millions could have been spent on people who earned too much to receive the government-financed health insurance.
At one point, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy called on Gee to resign after an audit said her agency may have spent as much as $85 million on Medicaid coverage for people who weren’t eligible. The Republican senator said Gee didn’t show respect for taxpayer dollars and shouldn’t be able to maintain her position.
Gee told lawmakers they ignored the benefits of Medicaid expansion to the hundreds of thousands of people who gained access to health services. She said her department bolstered its computer systems, doing more frequent wage checks to ensure people in the Medicaid program were eligible, and worked to require improved health care outcomes from Medicaid health care providers.
And she steadfastly defended the expansion of Medicaid.