BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration skipped required legal steps in making changes to the health insurance plans that cover state employees, teachers and retirees, the state attorney general's office said Tuesday.
In a legal opinion, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell's office said modifications to the health plans offered by the Office of Group Benefits must be made according to Louisiana's Administrative Procedures Act.
The act requires public notice, a comment period and legislative oversight.
Those provisions weren't followed when the Jindal administration made changes to insurance plans that took effect Aug. 1. Changes included medication restrictions and requiring prior authorization for certain medical procedures.
If the Office of Group Benefits didn't follow the Administrative Procedures Act when it created new health plans or modified the existing ones, "then the validity of the plans becomes questionable," Assistant Attorney General Emily Andrews wrote.
Elizabeth Murrill, a lawyer for Jindal's Division of Administration, disagreed with the attorney general's opinion. She said the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act "are not expressly required by law" for health benefit changes.
Rep. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat running for governor in 2015 and an outspoken critic of the health plan changes, requested the legal opinion. Edwards accused the administration of not following the law "in a willful attempt to evade public comment and legislative oversight."
The attorney general's opinion doesn't have the force of law. Critics of the health care changes seeking to reverse them would have to file a lawsuit.
The Office of Group Benefits covers 230,000 current state workers, public school employees, retirees and their dependents.
In addition to benefit reductions made last month, the Jindal administration is rewriting all health plan options available through the insurance program, to address financial troubles and the rising costs of health care.
The Office of Group Benefits announced last week that it would follow the Administrative Procedures Act before the new benefit plans take effect in January, after questions were raised by Edwards and Treasurer John Kennedy.
In a statement, Murrill said the insurance program will follow the act for the upcoming changes "to ensure plans are implemented properly and transparently."
The health plan changes have drawn widespread criticism from workers and retirees, along with lawmakers inundated with complaints that those in the insurance program will be paying more and getting less.
Edwards, D-Amite, said it's too late for the Jindal administration to comply with all the legal requirements for notice and oversight before the October enrollment period when employees, teachers and retirees must select new health plans.
"This administration knows that they are unfairly shifting the costs to state workers and teachers. Why else would they go to such great lengths, even breaking the law, to avoid public input and legislative oversight?" Edwards said.
The Jindal administration disagreed, saying there's an emergency process for meeting the requirements of the act before the October deadline.
Kennedy, a Republican, suggested the Office of Group Benefits should reconsider the planned changes.
"As I feared, the proper procedures may not have been followed. This gives us the perfect opportunity to go back to the drawing board," he said in a statement.