Landry Steps Into Fight Over John Bel Edwards And His Medicaid Contracts

Earlier, Sen. Conrad Appel had a column about Gov. John Bel Edwards’ unilateral actions to approve a set of Medicaid contracts the state has with third-party providers that Republicans in the state legislature don’t believe were well thought out. In that column, written last week, Appel noted that he and several others in the legislature would seek guidance from Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry regarding whether Edwards has the legal ability to pursue such a course of action.

And Landry, it seems, is smelling blood.

Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office is raising “concerns” that Louisiana’s governor cannot legally sidestep lawmakers to enter into $15.4 billion in Medicaid contracts through an emergency process.

Sixteen Republican state senators asked Landry to determine if Gov. John Bel Edwards can use emergency provisions to keep five managed-care companies operating services for 1.5 million Medicaid patients. The guidance issued to lawmakers by the GOP attorney general suggests that if the Democratic governor’s administration continues services by invoking the emergency statute, the contracts could be subject to legal dispute.

“It is possible that, if challenged, the ‘emergency’ (managed-care) contracts created pursuant to the emergency procurement process could be declared null and void,” Assistant Attorney General John Morris IV wrote in a “letter of advice” sent to senators over the weekend.

That letter continues uncertainty for a managed-care program that oversees health services for 90 percent of Louisiana’s Medicaid patients — and that has become a point of dispute between Edwards and House GOP leaders.

The Louisiana Department of Health decided to use the emergency approach to retain the managed-care companies for 23 months beyond their current deals’ expiration date after House Republicans on the Legislature’s joint budget committee twice blocked the contract extensions. The lawmakers raised concerns about the price tags of the deals and oversight of the spending.

The Edwards administration is relying on a state law that allows for emergency contracting when an imminent threat to public health, welfare or safety exists. Edwards’ lawyer Matthew Block said he’s confident the looming Jan. 31 expiration of the managed-care deals meets the criteria of an emergency, because it could threaten people with the loss of access to health care.

“We feel we are certainly well within the authority for the department to enter into” the contracts, Block said in a recent interview.

Nothing personal against Block, but if there’s an attorney who is proven wrong more often than he is, particularly when it comes to conflicts with Landry’s office, we haven’t seen one.

We talked about this a little last week, but Edwards’ continuous attempts to arrogate power to himself that previous governors, who didn’t have independent legislatures not willing to give their imprimatur to the actions of the Fourth Floor, never bothered to attempt, are actually diminishing the influence of the Bayou State’s chief executive. In the future Louisiana will look more like other states because of the increasing power of that legislature – which is a good thing; when you rank near the bottom of all the public-policy metrics it usually means you don’t do things the right way, and when your system is different than the people you rank below it usually means your system sucks, comparatively speaking.

Of course, that’s not Edwards’ intent. His intent is to ramrod his way past the legislature. The problem is he isn’t succeeding. He isn’t succeeding in his attempts to create protections for trannies and others by using language in state contracts that contradicts the clear statements of the legislature, and he isn’t likely to succeed with the Medicaid contracts – which will force him back to the table to negotiate with an ever-more-hostile legislature which wasn’t consulted on his Medicaid expansion plan that is shortly to become a fiscal boondoggle for the state.

Louisiana’s voters, who have spent 2017 in a profound state of ennui and exhaustion after the grind of the 2014-2015-2016 electoral gauntlet, aren’t paying attention to Edwards’ job performance yet. But as 2018 begins and Edwards’ record in office begins to take shape, it’s a good bet his approval rating starts to plummet. This fight on the Medicaid contracts is one of several which are coming the damage from which the governor cannot escape.

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