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A Times Editorial

Inspector’s firing fails the smell test

Holly Benson, secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, fired an inspector general whose report was critical of a law Benson favored. Gov. Crist has promised high ethical standards.

Associated Press

Holly Benson, secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, fired an inspector general whose report was critical of a law Benson favored. Gov. Crist has promised high ethical standards.

No one is disputing the chronology:

May 2005: State Rep. Holly Benson, prime sponsor of a controversial Medicaid free-market experiment, boasts: "Today, our bill is making history for all those Medicaid patients across the country."

September 2007: Linda Keen, inspector general for the Agency for Health Care Administration, releases a report critical of the law's implementation. AHCA Secretary Andrew Agwunobi halts further expansion.

July 2008: Holly Benson, five months after replacing Agwunobi as AHCA secretary, fires Linda Keen.

Skunks would run from the odor enveloping this sequence of events, but Benson so far has offered only an obtuse refrain by way of explanation. "Teams," she told a Times reporter, "change with time."

Benson may think she can play coy with the public, but this firing raises the specter of political purification in an agency that is supposed to be about public health. Gov. Charlie Crist, her boss, has promised he will hold his administration to a higher ethical standard.

The timing itself is peculiar. At the same time Keen was being forced to resign, the free-market-leaning James Madison Institute released a report praising the Medicaid experiment and condemning Keen's report. "The findings (by Keen) of problems and negative outcomes related to reform," the institute wrote, "would carry more weight if backed up by actual evidence rather than opinion." Similarly, the Madison Institute's own analysis might carry more weight if weren't written by the same Cleveland State University finance professor who in 2005 argued on behalf of the law.

The Madison Institute and other advocacy groups are more than welcome to weigh in on the issue, but an inspector general's report is supposed to be free of any particular political orientation. Inspectors general play a vital role in government, because they are paid to analyze and oversee government programs without fear of political interference. They are supposed to uncover the facts, to tell the truth, unvarnished by partisan ideologies.

Crist, a former attorney general, ought to appreciate the difference.

Maybe Keen's report was technically deficient or maybe she was failing to meet the professional standards expected of her. But that's not what Benson has said, and the public deserves to know more. If an inspector general was fired for telling a truth her boss did not want to hear, then Gov. Crist has to draw a line.

Inspector’s firing fails the smell test 07/24/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 30, 2008 4:22pm]

    

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