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Chris Traylor, Head of Massive Texas Health Commission, Announces Retirement

Chris Traylor, the head of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, has confirmed he will retire from the agency at the end of next month, ending a 26-year career in public service.

Texas Health and Human Services deputy commissioner Chris Traylor at the "Future Of State Health Policy" panel at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 22, 2012.

Chris Traylor, the head of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, told his staff on Friday he will retire from state government for good next month, according to an email obtained by The Texas Tribune.

After just less than a year at the top of the state’s massive health and human services agency — at the end of a 26-year career in public service — "I believe that the time is right for me to go," Traylor wrote.

The public announcement of his retirement comes after sources with knowledge of the decision first leaked the news to reporters late Thursday. Traylor will leave the agency at the end of May. His replacement has not been announced.

Last June, Traylor was the agency's deputy commissioner and had announced his intention to retire when he was tapped to be executive commissioner by Gov. Greg Abbott. His appointment followed the sudden retirement of the previous commissioner, Kyle Janek, in the aftermath of a scandal over how a government contract was awarded at the agency.

In a statement last summer, Abbott said Traylor would “make needed reforms to ensure that the millions of Texans who rely on the vital services HHSC performs are able to have the utmost trust in the agency.”

In all, the five agencies that make up the health and human services enterprise operate a $35 billion annual budget with roughly 60,000 employees. Their duties include overseeing the Medicaid public insurance program, running institutions such as state-supported living centers, and regulating private facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes. They also enforce restrictions on abortion clinics, oversee Child Protective Services and manage the state’s foster care system.

Traylor took over at a time when the agency is on the brink of a massive restructuring. The Health and Human Services Commission is combining with the Department of Aging and Disability Services and the Department of Rehabilitative and Assistive Services after lawmakers ordered the consolidation in 2015.

Perhaps Traylor’s most prominent role as executive commissioner has been to negotiate the future of a $21 billion dollar Medicaid program with the federal government. That program, known as the 1115 waiver, reimburses hospitals for the costs they incur from treating patients without health insurance.

Traylor has sought to persuade the federal government to continue the safety-net program in the short term despite the state’s refusal to expand government-subsidized health coverage to poor Texans. The negotiations continue but are said to be nearly finished.

Traylor previously served as chief of staff of the Health and Human Services Commission and manager of the day-to-day operations of a previous consolidation of Texas health and human services agencies in 2004. He is a former commissioner of the Department of Aging and Disability Services and once served on the staff of former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm.

In an email to health commission staff, Traylor said that, unlike his planned retirement last year, this time was "for real."

"I intend on quietly slipping away, this time," he wrote.

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