The Senate Finance Committee, meeting jointly with the Appropriations Committee, was a foregone conclusion insofar as the Piyush Jindal administration is concerned; Senate Finance was overwhelming in favor of knuckling under to Piyush all along. It was the Appropriations Committee that displayed a streak of independence last week when it voted 16-9 in favor of an immediate vote on the contract.
That motion, by Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe) prompted Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols to pull the proposal until this week.
Within hours of that vote, two members of the Appropriations Committee, Vice Chairman Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) and Joe Harrison (R-Gray) were removed by House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) as indisputable proof that he is Piyush pliant.
Henry and Harrison were replaced by Reps. Bryan Adams (R-Gretna) and Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport).
This time, the vote was 15-9 in favor of the contract with Adams and Seabaugh voting in favor.
Also voting in favor were two members who were absent from last week’s meeting—Reps. Patrick Connick (R-Marrero) and Jack Montoucet (D-Crowley), and two members who got the message after the demotion of Harrison and Henry and flipped last week’s “no” votes to emphatic “yes” votes this week: Reps. Henry Burns (R-Haughton) and John Schroder (R-Covington).
Two other members who voted with Jackson last week were absent Friday: Reps. Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles) and James Morris (R-Oil City).
Now that the contract has gained the legally required approval of the two legislative committees, the next likely phase will be the courts if unsuccessful bidder United Healthcare files suit against the state as expected.
Litigation could ensue because of the selection process for the contract, which is not to exceed $1.1 billion. The BCBS bid is said to have been as much as $15 million more than that of United Healthcare.
Jackson, who had sought—and received—an attorney general’s opinion that the contract required legislative approval, said Friday’s action came despite testimony Friday that the contract, besides resulting in 111 OGB employees losing their jobs, would cost the state “millions in additional dollars.”
She said new budgetary request shows a “significant increase” in what the state will spend on claims.
Testimony from the Legislative Fiscal Office and an OGB CEO Charles Calvi did little to shed any light on questions raised by committee members but it was all but obvious from the outset how the vote would come down.
While the Appropriations Committee vote was virtually a 180 reversal of last week’s vote (16-10 in favor Friday as opposed to 16-9 opposed last week), the Senate Finance Committee’s vote was 10-3 in favor Friday compared to last week’s 11-3 vote to defer action until this week. Voting against both deferral last week and the contract this week were Sens. Sherri Smith Buffington (R-Keithville) and Ed Murray (D-New Orleans). Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) voted against deferral last week but in favor of the contract this week. Sen. Fred Mills (R-New Iberia), who voted in favor of deferral last week, voted against the contract.
“This is what happens when Gov. Jindal removes members from the committee,” Jackson said of Friday’s vote.
“The vote last week was a vote based on the will of the legislature. The vote this week I a vote based on Jindal violating the separation of powers clause and removing members from the committee based on their vote(s).
“Testimony showed that this move would not result in state savings yet (and) because of Jindal’s overlapping interference in the legislative process, some members were backed into voting for it.”
Sen. Gerald Long (R-Natchitoches) told LouisianaVoice after the meeting that he voted in favor of the contract “because BCBS is already administering 75 percent of OGB’s claims and is doing a good job.”
He did not address the question of why he voted to put 111 OGB employees out of work who were doing an equally good job administering the remaining 25 percent of OGB claims.
One of the phrases most repeated by witnesses who spoke out against the contract as committee members talked among themselves, texted and walked around the room was “why fix something that is not broken?”
That question is yet to be addressed by anyone on either committee or from DOA.
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