La. governor looks to go around legislature on Medicaid contracts

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - After Louisiana lawmakers voted twice to block state contracts with Medicaid managed care organizations (MCOs), the governor is choosing to go around the legislature.

Gov. John Bel Edwards is asking the Office of State Procurement to give him the authority to issue emergency contracts with the five companies that coordinate healthcare coverage for about 1.5 million Louisianians. Roughly 800,000 of those recipients are children, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

The contracts expire at the end of January and the governor's office is arguing that "public health" will be put at risk if the contracts are not extended. Richard Carbo, a spokesman for the governor, noted that they are up against a deadline since the contracts still need to be approved at the federal level.

As proposed by the Edwards administration, the contracts would extend the deal with the MCOs for 23 months at a cost of $15.4 billion.

The Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget has discussed the contracts at three separate hearings over the past two months. They did not vote the first time around. At the second and third hearings, most of the House GOP members on the panel chose to block the contracts.

Led by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, House Republicans argued the contracts tweaked to allow for greater accountability. They even want the legislative auditor to be named in the contracts explicitly, ensuring he has oversight power. In an interview, Henry expressed concern about potential fraud in the Medicaid program.

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Over the past the few months, the Edwards administration remained steadfast, arguing against modifying the contracts. At a hearing last Friday, administration officials said the contracts already allow for accountability.

Even so, in a letter to Henry, the governor's executive counsel Matthew Block noted that the contracts would be modified as part of the emergency order, adding a provision that notes that the legislative auditor "currently has the authority" to provide oversight of the MCOs and Medicaid.

The MCO contracts were first negotiated during the Jindal administration.

In the letter to Henry, Block said the proposed extensions "are likely the most scrutinized contracts in the history of this committee. They also have been discussed more in the last two months than when the previous administration placed the Medicaid program in managed care."

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