Legislative subcommittee votes to recommend approval of Health Care Task Force consulting contract | Arkansas Blog

Legislative subcommittee votes to recommend approval of Health Care Task Force consulting contract


The Legislative Executive Subcommittee today voted to recommend a contract for the Stephen Group, the firm that the Health Reform Legislative Task Force voted 9-7 as its choice for a consultant. 

I'm about to to be on the road and away from the computer for a spell, so I will have a more detailed report later this evening. Here's the gist, though: Sen. Jim Hendren, as expected, explained that the task force had voted for the Stephen Group but that he and other members had major reservations. (See today's earlier posts for all of the controversy around the process of selecting a consultant.)

Hendren expressed concern that the Stephen Group's proposal was not comprehensive enough to meet the demands of the task force and was too heavily focused on "scrubbing the Medicaid rolls" — an audit of the Medicaid program that would examine whether beneficiaries were actually eligible for Medicaid. 

Scrubbing the rolls is a popular Republican talking point, and it was clearly a selling point for the Tea Party GOPs who backed Stephen. Much of the discussion today focused on just that. Hendren argued that evaluating eligibility verification in the existing program was important, but was tangential to the goals of the task force: to reform the overall health care system. A number of GOPs expressed skepticism that the Stephen Group could deliver on a promise to audit the entire Medicaid program — 800,000 beneficiaries — for 10 percent of their proposed budget, $100,000. Other consultants testified to the task force that a complete and thorough audit would be orders of magnitude more expensive. 

Democrats were less focused on the "scrubbing the rolls" issue but all four Democrats also voted for Stephen, for their own idiosyncratic reasons. Dems found themselves today in a strange alliance with folks like Rep. David Meeks. At this point, there seems to be a strong sentiment from the nine who voted for Stephen — Republican and Democrat alike — that regardless of who is picked as a consultant, it damaged the integrity of the process to attempt to "usurp" the majority of the task force (Hendren said he was merely speaking as an individual task force member and legislator, and that he felt compelled to note his concerns given the size of the contract).

The subcommittee rejected, on a split voice vote, a motion to send it back to the task force to try to come up with a compromise. The subcommittee on a unanimous voice vote sent it on to the Legislative Council tomorrow for final review of the contract. 

Rep. Charlie Collins
will run through the same show tomorrow — he will explain that the task force voted to give the contract to Stephen, but recommend that the Council not award the contract to anyone until a broader consensus on the task force can be reached. He's not expected to have any more luck than Hendren, however; most predict that the Council will easily approve the contract for the Stepehen Group tomorrow. 

I'll have much more this evening, including salty comments from both sides. Tedious procurement fights lead to high legislative drama! 

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