NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - As Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry is exploring whether Gov. John Bel Edwards had the legal authority to issue brand new Medicaid contracts, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee defends against how he and some other Republican lawmakers pushed back against what the governor was requesting.
The governor asked the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget to approve contract extensions for five private managed-care organizations or companies, known as MCOs, but Republicans on the panel repeatedly refused to support the move. So Edwards recently used an emergency process to approve new contracts for the MCOs so the program that provides health care for the poor would not be interrupted early next year.
"We want to make sure that the contracts are in the best interest of taxpayers," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie and Chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
The ongoing hoopla prompted a conference call between the governor's executive counsel, Matthew Block, and news reporters Monday afternoon.
"Especially the leadership in the House Appropriations Committee to essentially to continue to put off the approval and to force the hand of the department to take responsibility for putting something in place, so that we will not take health care away from 1.6 million people in Louisiana, 800,000 kids," Block said.
He said the governor could not wait any longer to take action as the current managed-care deals expire Jan. 31.
"We simply cannot gamble that where we would have on Feb. 1 a Medicaid program being in total chaos," Block continued.
The contract amount to $15.4 billion.
"This isn't an attack on anyone. This is a process that we're supposed to go through on all contracts, not just MCO contracts," said Rep. Henry.
Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, said the governor was right to act.
"This is real-life issues that really concerns people. This affects over one million individuals here in the state of Louisiana," he said.
He said the committee had ample time to approve the initial contract extensions the governor and his health department sought.
"As the governor of the state of Louisiana, it's his job to protect the citizens here in the State of Louisiana even when other individuals elected by the citizens of the state try to act against it," said Sen. Bishop.
"Of course, because the attempts to get it approved were only held up by members who had questions for the MCOs themselves," he said.
Henry said the state's Legislative Auditor should be heavily involved.
"I think it is important for us at a minimum to have the Legislative Auditor involved to make sure that the right people are getting the right services," Henry said.
But Edwards' administration said the Legislative Auditor already has that authority.
"Both the auditor and the department testified that there's an agreement that the auditor doesn't need any additional authority," said Block.
All of this comes as the state's Medicaid program is spending less than expected this budget year.
"A significant number of people who qualify for Medicaid here in Louisiana, if you brought them to any other state, they would not qualify, so it is good that we are saving a little bit of money where we can," said Henry.
He also said if the governor wants the JLBC to reconsider the contract extensions he should first present lawmakers with the contracts in a timely manner.