Jindal health plan on tap again

After a legislative leadership upheaval and an information campaign, the Jindal administration will take another crack Friday at winning approval for a plan to hire Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana to manage state employee health plans.

The House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees will meet at 8:30 a.m. Friday despite grumbling that the meeting violates Louisiana House rules.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, the governor’s chief budget advisor, said Wednesday that she worked hard over the span of several days to eliminate uncertainty about the proposal’s cost-saving merits. “We’re confident that we’re going to be successful on Friday,” Nichols said.

The Jindal administration wants to hire Blue Cross to manage three major health plans at the Office of Group Benefits.

The Office of Group Benefits provides health and life insurance to about a quarter-million current and retired state employees and their dependents.

Blue Cross already handles the office’s HMO, or Health Maintenance Organization, which covers 164,000 people. State employees at the Office of Group Benefits manage the PPO, or Preferred Provider Organization, which covers 62,000 people.

Under the proposal, Blue Cross would manage the HMO, PPO and another plan currently handled by United Healthcare.

The hiring would mean a new health plan provider for thousands of current and retired state employees not enrolled in the HMO. Workers at the Office of Group Benefits who manage the PPO would lose their jobs.

Resistance to the proposal, which the administration claims will produce $20 million a year in operational savings, stems from plan members’ happiness with the current system and concern that the promised savings won’t materialize.

An initial legislative meeting on the proposal was cancelled. At a meeting last week, Nichols asked committee members to withdraw the proposal amid legislators’ complaints that not enough information was known. It also appeared that the administration lacked the votes, based on a flurry of motions that amounted to competing attempts to force and, alternatively, to delay a vote on the proposal.

The next day, Nov. 2, the vice chairman of the House Appropriations committee, state Rep. Cameron Henry, R-New Orleans, and a committee member, state Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, both of whom opposed the proposal, were removed from their positions and replaced by legislators who have supported Jindal in the past.

Earlier this week, notice of a third meeting popped up on the Legislature’s website.

State Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said Wednesday that House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin failed to file notice of the meeting 10 days in advance as required by House rules.

Fannin, D-Jonesboro, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Senate Finance Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, refused to discuss Jackson’s objection. “I don’t have anything to say about that,” Donahue said Wednesday, adding that Jackson’s complaint is not worth discussing.

Several legislators said they are undecided on how they will vote on the proposal.

The administration, which claims the proposal will save state government, state workers, school boards and other entities money by eliminating duplication, wrote school boards across the state after last week’s meeting. In the letter, the administration boasted savings “for school boards and employees would be almost $7 million per year.”

East Baton Rouge Parish is not among the school systems that would derive savings.

Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said Wednesday that he met with the administration but still harbors concerns about the savings materializing.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, and a Senate Finance Committee member, said the committee upheaval likely will affect Friday’s meeting outcome.

“With the reconstituted House (committee), there’s probably a serious attitude adjustment over there. My expectation is that it will pass muster with the House. My expectation with the Senate is there hasn’t been an erosion of the administration’s position,” Claitor said.

Nichols disputed that the committee’s personnel upheaval will be a factor.

“What the committee’s going to be focused on will be the value of the contract,” she said.