If observers thought that Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols was a little miffed at the unexpected turn of events at last week’s joint meeting of the House Appropriations and the Senate Finance committees, perhaps they would have liked to have been a fly on the wall Thursday afternoon.
Reports indicate that Nichols and staff were still scrambling to compile support documentation during an 11th-hour planning session before Friday’s second joint meeting of the two committees.
The meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Friday at the State Capitol.
Last week’s meeting ended when she abruptly pulled the proposal from the agenda after the two committees had been meeting for just over four hours. She claimed the move was to provide legislators additional information but everyone—including Nichols—knew her move was a calculated one after she realized there were not enough votes in the Appropriations Committee to push the contract through.
Concurrence by both the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees is required for concurrence on the proposed contract.
Within hours of the meeting, two Appropriations Committee members who had thrown hard questions at Nichols, who was making her debut before legislators as Jindal’s new commissioner of administration, were replaced by House Speaker Chuck “Chicken Klucker” Kleckley (R-Lake Charles), apparently as a warning to the remaining members that they should fall in line or suffer the wrath of the Piyush Jindal administration.
It remains to be seen if the move will whip the other 14 Appropriations members who last week voted against the administration in line or if it will stiffen their resolve to assert their independence of the governor’s office and re-establish the legislature as a separate branch of government instead of an extension of the governor’s office as it has been for nearly five years now.
The new flurry of activity apparently stems from Nichols’ attempts to figure out how State Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe) arrived at numbers that sharply contrast with the administration’s estimate of a $20 million savings with its proposed contract that calls for Blue Cross/Blue Shield to take over as third party administrator (TPA) for the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) preferred provider organization (PPO) program.
Jackson, using figures provided the legislature during the budgetary process, has calculated that the takeover by BCBS, instead of saving the $20 million, as the administration claims, will actually cost the state more than $154.8 million even as it costs more than 100 OGB employees their jobs.
She said that figures provided legislators during the budgetary process this year project a $24 million decrease in OGB’s administrative costs, a decrease of nearly $558 million in the PPO claims payments and a decrease of $3.5 million to United Behavioral health for disease management.
That totals about $585.2 million against a $740 million increase in administrative fee payments to BCBS, or $154.8 million in additional costs.
Other issues that could arise is the 10-day notice requirement for committee meetings. Jackson maintains that Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Fannin (D-Jonesboro) did not provide the required notice to committee members and to the public.
Fannin has not responded to her objection.
One other question that could come up revolves around the bid by BCBC, which experts say will cost the state $15 million more than the bid of United Healthcare.
Sources have indicated that United Healthcare is prepared to file a lawsuit against the state if the contract with BCBS is approved and goes into effect in January.