"These are mega-contracts, and they entail 25 percent of our budget," insisted state Senator Conrad Appel, during the Joint Budget committee's fourth hearing on extending Louisiana's current managed-care contracts for Medicaid.
But the two-month-long tug-of-war over the 23-month extensions for the five companies — a total of $15.6-billion — finally ended late last week.
It didn't take long to determine that the House Republican-led opposition was prepared to green-light the extensions, with Appropriations Chair Cameron Henry branding it a victory.
"Overall, what we were able to do by not agreeing right away with what you all wanted to do, is just to put some language in the contracts that makes everybody feel — the taxpayers feel — a little bit better than we did before," Henry stated. "And we allowed the process to work. We might not have gotten everything that we wanted, but we have more than what we originally started."
Speaking directly to the governor's executive counsel, Matthew Block, Henry added, "We didn't rubber stamp it — we just allowed the process that we have in place to work. So for the future contracts, I would assume we're going to again continue to allow the process to work."
State Senator Sharon Hewitt, who had supported approving the extensions during prior meetings, framed the struggle as an object lesson.
"I think if we've learned anything over these last few months, it is that the Legislature does want to be involved in these really big contracts. We want to understand, and we want to contribute to the conversation," the Slidell Republican commented.
Senate President John Alario waxed philosophical, as well.
"I think it's been a good, healthy exercise in the democratic process," Alario remarked. "I think those who had some concerns certainly have expressed them, and I think they've been addressed. And I want to compliment both sides in it."
Alario then recommended an end to the conflict over the contract extensions.
"At this time, Mr. Chairman, I'd like to move for approval of 'em."
"All right," Finance chair Eric LaFleur said softly. He then loudly asked, "Is there any objection to that motion? Hearing no objection, then the recommendation of the department is acceptable."