State officials offered conflicting reasons Thursday for the cancellation of a meeting to get legislators’ approval of a change in the handling of state employee health plans.
State Rep. Jim Fannin backed Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols’ explanation that legislators need more time to review the proposed contract with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. Approval of the contract will mean a new health insurance provider for thousands of current and retired state workers as well as the loss of 177 state government positions.
“We just got the contract, and I had members calling me to say, ‘Look, we need a little more time to look at the contract,’ ” Fannin said, adding that he is unsure when the meeting will be rescheduled.
Fannin, D-Jonesboro, chairs the House Appropriations Committee that will review the contract in concert with the Senate Finance Committee. The committees were supposed to meet jointly Thursday. The meeting was abruptly canceled.
State Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said the Jindal administration lacks the needed support among legislators to change the management of state employee health plans. “The votes weren’t there,” she said.
The Office of Group Benefits provides health and life insurance to about a quarter-million current and retired state employees and their dependents, some of whom already receive health insurance through Blue Cross.
In a bid to save money, the Jindal administration wants to fire dozens of the office’s state workers and hire Blue Cross to manage more state employee health plans. The transition would take effect in January.
The contract would result in 177 positions being eliminated from the Office of Group Benefits’ 327-member workforce. The Jindal administration contends that hiring Blue Cross would save state government, state workers, school boards and other entities at least $20 million a year.
Most of the savings would be derived from the job eliminations.
The Office of Group Benefits offers a PPO, or preferred provider organization, and an HMO, or health maintenance organization.
The PPO is managed by state workers at the Office of Group Benefits and covers 62,010 insured lives. A PPO is a group of doctors, hospitals and others providing health care at reduced rates.
Blue Cross administers the HMO, which places patients under the care of a primary care physician. The HMO covers nearly 165,000 insured lives.
Under the reorganization, Blue Cross and Blue Shield would administer a package of programs, including the PPO.
The Jindal administration sought legislative approval of the hiring only after the state Attorney General’s Office said it was necessary.
Jackson said the meeting would not have been canceled if the Jindal administration had the votes to push through the contract.
She said the issue likely is not dead.
“I hope members will understand this is not a good contract,” Jackson said.
She said the Office of Group Benefits already is operating efficiently. She questioned the validity of the claims that $20 million will be saved through privatization.
Another concern, Jackson said, is that senior citizens will not receive the same customer service and benefits they currently receive.
Fannin said his staff is reviewing the proposed contract and comparing it to existing state contracts for health plans.
He said the governor had the votes to approve the hiring of Blue Cross. The issue, he said, was the size of the contract and a concern that the public needed more notice of the meeting.
“I’ll accept that responsibility,” Fannin said. “It wasn’t the governor that put the meeting off. It was me ... and it wasn’t because of votes.”