DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen | Photo courtesy of WRAL

10 Things To Know About DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen

In Buzz, May 2020 by Raleigh Magazine1 Comment

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Secretary Mandy Cohen, an internal medicine physician and head of North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, has been the face of the state government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic—you’ve likely found her a composed, reassuring presence during televised COVID-19 updates alongside Gov. Roy Cooper. But far beyond the scope of her job, where she oversees a department of 16,000 employees with an annual budget of about $20 billion, Cohen has been working since January of 2017 to make the state a nationally recognized leader in innovative healthcare. Here are some things to know about Cohen. 

1. A graduate of Cornell and Yale Medical School, Cohen also holds a master’s degree in public health from Harvard. She had no ties to North Carolina and was living in Washington, D.C. before Cooper appointed her to lead DHHS.

2. Cohen served as the chief operating officer and chief of staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the Obama administration. She helped implement policies for Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program as well as the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. 

3. Cohen is well-respected on both sides of the aisle, navigating a rocky divide between Democratic Cooper, who wants to expand Medicaid under the ACA, and the Republican-majority state legislature, which does not. Cohen has helped guide the state through a transition from fee-for-service Medicaid to a managed care model by which the state contracts with insurance companies that are paid pre-determined rates to provide healthcare services (currently, the Medicaid Managed Care has been suspended and NC Medicaid continues to operate under the DHHS-administered, fee-for-service model). The plan has been nationally recognized for its innovative approach to managed care.

4. Cohen spearheaded a pilot initiative, Healthy Opportunities, to test the impact of providing high-need Medicaid enrollees with housing, food, transportation and interpersonal safety interventions with the goal of improving health and reducing costs. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services authorized $650 million in state and federal Medicaid funding for the initiative. 

5. Cohen implemented an Opioid Action Plan with more than $45.5 million in grant funding dedicated to fighting opioid misuse. The plan also updated the Controlled Substance Reporting System to help doctors identify patients at risk of misusing opioids. Overdose deaths declined, since the plan launched, for the first time in over a decade.

6. With partners and stakeholders across the state, Cohen led an Early Childhood Action Plan with an ambitious vision for better outcomes for North Carolina’s children from birth through age 8. 

7. Cohen stands up for what she believes in. She made the case to include maternity coverage in the ACA before former NC Rep. Mark Meadows and congressional leaders in 2014, while eight months pregnant. And she publicly criticized the state House’s proposed budget for 2019-2021 last fall, arguing it harms the people of North Carolina by making “massive cuts to DHHS that will potentially impact everything from health inspections of restaurants to the safety of drinking water to child protective services.” The General Assembly adjourned this year without passing a budget. 

8. Cohen says her mother, a nurse practitioner, inspired her to study medicine. 

9. Healthcare business, news, research and opinion publication Modern Healthcare named Cohen to its 2019 list of Top 25 Women Leaders. 

10. Cohen, a self-described music lover, lives in Raleigh with with her husband Sam, who is a health care regulatory lawyer, and their two young daughters. Follow her on Twitter @SecMandyCohen.

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