MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith, who is in charge of overseeing the state's BadgerCare Medicaid programs, has resigned to take a job with a Washington law firm.
Gov. Scott Walker announced the resignation on Friday and appointed Deputy Secretary Kitty Rhoades to take over as secretary.
Smith's resignation letter is dated Thursday and said he was leaving effective March 1. The Washington law office of McKenna Long & Aldridge announced that Smith would be working on their health policy team, helping clients with "long-term market opportunities and business strategies" as well as developing health policy.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said Smith was not asked to resign. A request made to the DHS spokeswoman to speak with Smith was not immediately returned.
Smith has served as head of the agency since Walker took office in January 2011. The department has a roughly $3 billion annual budget and is in charge of overseeing BadgerCare and other public assistance programs, including FoodShare, Family Care and SeniorCare.
Smith has been at the forefront of Walker's health care agenda, overseeing the governor's refusal to implement major portions of the federal health care overhaul law.
Smith worked with Walker in crafting the governor's latest proposal, submitted to the Legislature this week, to turn down federal money to pay for Medicaid expansion. Instead, Walker wants to tighten income eligibility for the program, resulting in more people getting coverage through private health insurance marketplaces.
Smith praised that proposal in his resignation letter, saying the idea will "stabilize the Medicaid programs for our most vulnerable citizens and give the department the tools necessary to secure these programs and set them on a path to sustainability."
Smith has been a lightning rod for criticism from Democrats and others who supported the federal health care law and wanted Walker's administration to embrace it.
"From day one, Dennis Smith was more interested in an extreme ideology than in advocating for the health and well-being of Wisconsinites," said Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate. "Wisconsin's next DHS secretary has the opportunity to turn the page on this unprecedented assault on BadgerCare. I hope for all Wisconsin families, she takes it."
Rhoades didn't give any indication in a statement released through Walker's office that she intended to change how the department is run.
"Wisconsin has been a leader in reforming our health care system, and with the governor's innovative proposals, we will continue this tradition," she said.
Rhoades has been Smith's deputy since January 2011. Prior to that, she served in the state Assembly from 1999 through 2010.
Smith came to Wisconsin after having served as head of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services since 2007.