La. lawmakers frustrated as Medicaid contract controversy drags on

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Louisiana state government’s internal review of its decision to scrap Medicaid contracts worth billions of dollars won’t be finished until mid-March at the earliest, though the controversy is likely to go on much longer.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, who will review the decision, says he can’t say much about the issues at hand, leaving some lawmakers feeling they’ve been left in the dark.

“We still can’t answer anything about anything,” Rep. Rick Edmonds, a Baton Rouge Republican, said at Thursday’s meeting of the legislature’s joint House and Senate budget committee.

“Everybody is frustrated,” Dardenne said. “It’s frustrating for the parties. It’s frustrating for me. It’s frustrating for the [health] department. It is, however, the legal process that is set out.”

Louisiana contracts with managed care organizations to oversee utilization, cost and quality of care for Medicaid recipients. The MCOs work much like private insurers, and the state pays them a fee for each recipient who signs up with their plan.

The state’s agreements with five MCOs were scheduled to expire at the end of 2019. LDH chose four companies – three of the current contract holders at the time and one new company – to manage care going forward.

Two of the losing bidders protested the decision, and in January, the state’s chief procurement officer threw out the contract awards, citing a “fatally flawed procurement process.” The winning bidders and the Department of Health subsequently protested that decision.

Dardenne’s decision is due by mid-March, though he can extend the deadline if needed. Parties dissatisfied with his decision likely would take the issue to court, which could take several more months.

In the meantime, the state is using emergency contracts that still have not been officially approved by federal regulators. Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, suggested state government might want to review how it handles contracts in the future, possibly by having an outside firm rather than staff score contract bids.

Sen. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said one staffer has been accused of shredding relevant documents, and wondered if that violated any laws about protecting public records. Stephen Russo, the health department’s interim director, said his understanding was that the staff member shredded her copy of the document, but it wasn’t the only copy, so the record still was preserved.