The Florida Senate isn’t going to play games with Gov. Rick Scott’s executive appointments in the wake of the Medicaid meltdown that is occurring in Tallahassee.
Senate President Andy Gardiner on Wednesday told reporters that he holds Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Liz Dudek in high regard and doesn’t see her nomination to run the state’s Medicaid agency at risk.
“I like the secretary a lot and I have a tremendous amount of respect for her,” Gardiner said. He acknowledged the press release that Dudek released last week announcing that Low Income Pool negotiations between Florida and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was not well timed.
“It’s probably not productive for everybody,” Gardiner said. “But at the end of the day, my message to CMS and to Liz and everybody else is, ‘This is kind of a big deal. And it’s time to quit the finger pointing and let’s find a scape goat here.’ “
The Senate Health Policy Committee had confirmed Dudek before the release was sent out last week. However, the committee had not acted on Department of Health secretary nominee John Armstrong.
Indeed, the Senate Health Policy Committee on Tuesday temporarily deferred the confirmation of Armstrong after he refused to directly answer whether he supports the Senate’s Medicaid expansion proposal called FHIX or whether he supports a Medicaid expansion for the state of Florida, as outlined in the federal healthcare law, often called Obamacare.
Rick Scott on Monday released a statement that didn’t contain the word “Medicaid” at all but noted that “it would be hard to understand how the state could take on even more federal programs that CMS could scale back or walk away from.”
The position is a reversal for Scott who in 2013 said he supported a Medicaid expansion. He reiterated his support of the expansion while stumping for governor in 2014.
Armstrong, who also serves as the state’s surgeon general, dodged the question when asked three times by former state Sen. Don Gaetz and refused to answer the question when asked by Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner.
Sensing a growing frustration from Senate Health Policy Committee members. State Sen. Bill Galvano deferred the confirmation.
Gaetz said he supports Armstrong and will vote for his confirmation. Nevertheless, Gaetz said that as “chief health officer” for the state, “he has to … be able to anwser direct questions about whether improved health access can result in better health outcomes. That’s not a trick question. It’s certainly permissible for him to say, ‘I support my governor. I support my boss,’ ” Gaetz said.
“If he would have given a straightforward answer, I think he would have stood a better chance of confirmation before the Senate Health Policy Committee …. the Senate deserves a straight answer.”
Meanwhile, at the Senate Democratic Caucus meeting Wednesday morning, state Sens. Oscar Braynon and Eleanor Sobel suggested that senators query Dudek on expansion.
“I feel anybody for an executive branch that is tasked at implementing what we are looking to pass that has to do with health care should have an opinion about (Medicaid expansion).
Meanwhile, Braynon, who serves on the Senate Health Policy Committee as well as the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, says the he will not support Armstrong’s nomination.
“The surgeon general is the head doctor of the state. If he’s choosing to duck and dive our questions, whatever they are about, that doesn’t sound like a guy I want to be my doctor. i want my doctor to give it to me straight. I don’t want my doctor to say to me, ‘You know what? There might be something wrong with you, but i don’t have an opinion right now.’ “