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Senate rejects Charlie Crist AHCA chief confirmation

Sen. Don Gaetz' Health Regulation Committee made a surprise rejection of AHCA Secretary Tom Arnold. The vote: 4-3.

Arnold was rejected because, in the words of the senators, his agency failed to rein in fraud, failed to properly implement a medical-home program and didn't properly implement a so-called "telephony" project designed to ensure that home-health agents prove by telephone that they were actually doing their jobs.

Nearly all of these failures can't solely be laid at Arnold's feet. He has only been in charge of the agency for a few months. For more than two years, the agency was run by Holly Benson, now an attorney general candidate. She's also a friend of Sen. Gaetz, who refused to say whether she had a role in any of the failures. Gaetz said it would be "unfair" to blame Benson without giving her a say.

"The problems pre-date Secretary Benson and they will post date Secretary Arnold," Gaetz said.

Gaetz said that Arnold, who was nursing a cold, sealed his fate by failing to say he had a plan to run the agency in the future and set clear benchmarks for success. "He gave a process answer," Gaetz said. "It was a watershed question."

Voting no: Gaetz, Eleanor Sobel, Mike Bennett, Dennis Jones. Voting yes: Andy Gardiner, Al Lawson, Thad Altman.

Arnold, a career AHCA professional who headed the Medicaid program and was a key player in former Gov. Jeb Bush's Medicaid Reform program, took the rejection with little visible effect, save a slight trembling in his hands. He walked swiftly out of the committee room.

The rejection of Arnold comes amid tensions between Gov. Charlie Crist and the Republicans who run the Senate. Crist vetoed a fundraising bill sought by the next Senate president, Mike Haridopolos, and he's leaning strongly toward a veto of the teacher merit pay bill pushed by the Republican leadership.

But Gaetz said the vote was solely limited to the performance of AHCA and its failures.