DHHS Secretary Lanier Cansler headshot
DHHS Secretary Lanier Cansler, Image courtesy, NC DHHS
DHHS Secretary Lanier Cansler headshot
DHHS Secretary Lanier Cansler

Reporter’s Notebook:

Secretary of Health and Human Services Lanier Cansler will be leaving his post in February.  Cansler has been in his post since January, 2009, and presided over three years of cuts to health and human services, most notably Medicaid.

In many ways, Cansler has had one of the most thankless jobs in state government, tasked with cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from Medicaid and state services, year after year. It was something he obviously did not enjoy. In recent months, more than one person remarked to me that Cansler had gained weight and looked tired.

Most recently, Cansler has come under criticism in the form of an audit performed by the office of state auditor Beth Wood detailing cost overruns and delays creating a new computer system to integrate information services across DHHS. Just before Cansler was appointed to his post in January, 2009 the state awarded the contract for the job to one of his clients, Computer Services Corp.

Cansler has also been caught in the middle of a political fight between Republican legislators and Democratic Governor Bev Perdue over a $149 million gap in the Medicaid budget. House and Senate Republicans have repeatedly stated it’s Governor Perdue’s responsibility to move money around the cover the gap, while the governor has retorted she needs the legislature to empower her to move any funds.

Cansler, a Republican, found himself on the opposite side of others in his party over the budget argument. After the HHS appropriations meeting in December, I buttonholed him in the hallway and asked for his take on the impasse. He sighed and told me he believed the governor was right – she had been able to move money during the budget crises of previous years, but this year, without a budget emergency, her power to move funds around was limited.

Cansler, a CPA, was elected to four terms as a Republican legislator between 1994 – 2001, and also served as a lobbyist for the health care industry. Cansler eventually won the respect of many in the health care advocacy community. The turning point for many was a legislative committee meeting where, in response to a question from a lawmaker, he gave an eight minute monologue detailing a decade’s worth of problems with North Carolina’s mental health system. The synopsis drew gasps from advocates after the meeting who stated they now knew without a doubt Cansler ‘got’ the problems in the system.

Al Delia, Governor Perdue’s lead policy advisor will step into Cansler’s role in February. Cansler will move to chair a new governor’s commission on an affordable health care system in North Carolina.

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Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees...

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