By Rose Hoban

Carol Steckel, the state’s Medicaid director, is leaving after eight months on the job.

Her departure is the latest in a string of high-profile departures from the Department of Health and Human Services, which has been plagued of late by personnel issues.

Multiple phone calls to DHHS on Monday were not returned, but in a press release made available Monday afternoon, Steckel said, “It was a difficult decision to leave DHHS, but this is a great opportunity I can’t turn down.”

She will be leaving to join WellCare Health Plans, a Medicaid managed care company based in Florida.

Steckel was earning $210,000 a year to run the state’s Medicaid program. She came to North Carolina in late January from Louisiana, where she worked for almost two and a half years, first overseeing implementation of a Medicaid managed care program and then managing operations and policy for Louisiana’s Medicaid program. There she received a salary of $148,500.

Her boss in Louisiana, Bruce Greenstein, was fired for passing inside information about Medicaid managed care bids to a former employer to help it obtain a low-bid contract.

Before that, Steckel led Alabama’s Medicaid program from 1988 to 1992 and from 2003 to 2010. She is also the former head of the National Association of State Medicaid Directors.

When Steckel was hired, DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos said in a press release that Steckel “exemplifies the kind of bold thinking about government-funded health care that emphasizes efficiency and accountability, while still serving the neediest citizens among us. I’m confident that she will help shape the North Carolina Medicaid program into one that other states will look to as a model for guidance.”

When Gov. Pat McCrory introduced Steckel at her first public appearance before the media, he called her a “national expert in Medicaid and Medicare reform.”

“In a short period of time, I’m hearing rave reviews about your work,” McCrory told her at a press conference on Jan. 31 to announce a Medicaid audit.

At that press conference, McCrory said a person from Louisiana came up to him at a meeting in Washington, D.C. “and said, ‘How did you get her?'”

Steckel joined Wos in traveling the state promoting their plan for converting Medicaid to a system run by private managed care companies, some of which could be for-profit organizations like the one Steckel is leaving her present position for.

Wos and Steckel often came under fire during the meetings, where advocates and health care leaders criticized their plans to work around the state’s homegrown Medicaid management organization, Community Care of North Carolina.

For the most part, Steckel remained in the background, speaking only occasionally at legislative oversight meetings, while Wos has made the majority of public appearances on behalf of DHHS.

Last week, DHHS communications associate Kirsti Clifford responded to an inquiry regarding Steckel’s imminent departure: “To your … question asking if Carol Steckel is leaving, the answer is no,” Clifford wrote.

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