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Attorney general raises concerns about Edwards Medicaid plan

Edwards

BATON ROUGE — Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office is raising “concerns” that Louisiana’s governor cannot legally sidestep lawmakers to enter into $15.4 billion in Medicaid contracts through an emergency process.

Sixteen Republican state senators asked Landry to determine if Gov. John Bel Edwards can use emergency provisions to keep five managed-care companies operating services for 1.5 million Medicaid patients. The guidance issued to lawmakers by the GOP attorney general suggests that if the Democratic governor’s administration continues services by invoking the emergency statute, the contracts could be subject to legal dispute.

“It is possible that, if challenged, the ’emergency’ (managed-care) contracts created pursuant to the emergency procurement process could be declared null and void,” Assistant Attorney General John Morris IV wrote in a “letter of advice” sent to senators over the weekend.

That letter continues uncertainty for a managed-care program that oversees health services for 90 percent of Louisiana’s Medicaid patients — and that has become a point of dispute between Edwards and House GOP leaders.

The Louisiana Department of Health decided to use the emergency approach to retain the managed-care companies for 23 months beyond their current deals’ expiration date after House Republicans on the Legislature’s joint budget committee twice blocked the contract extensions. The lawmakers raised concerns about the price tags of the deals and oversight of the spending.

The Edwards administration is relying on a state law that allows for emergency contracting when an imminent threat to public health, welfare or safety exists. Edwards’ lawyer Matthew Block said he’s confident the looming Jan. 31 expiration of the managed-care deals meets the criteria of an emergency, because it could threaten people with the loss of access to health care.

“We feel we are certainly well within the authority for the department to enter into” the contracts, Block said in a recent interview.

The GOP senators who requested guidance from the attorney general, a frequent Edwards critic, include several members of the joint budget committee who voted for the contract extensions. Senators on the committee unanimously agreed to the deals.

Sen. Jack Donahue, a Mandeville Republican who led the request to Landry, said the issue isn’t the specific Medicaid managed-care arrangement, but whether Edwards can bypass the legislative process. He said there’s still time to negotiate approval from lawmakers.

The attorney general’s office echoed similar concerns in its letter, saying the “emergency” in the current case appears to be the Edwards’ administration’s inability to win legislative support. Morris, the assistant attorney general, wrote that the health department could have used the standard competitive bidding process to skip needing legislative approval under the law while also avoiding “the current ’emergency.'”

Health department officials have said because of the complexity of the managed-care deals, they don’t have enough time to seek competitive bids.

The Edwards administration has said it is willing to bring the contracts up for a third vote before the joint budget committee this week if lawmakers are interested in hearing the deals again. The agenda for the committee hearing so far doesn’t list the Medicaid contracts for consideration, though they could be added.