Under pressure from a state Senate panel, Louisiana’s health chief disclosed Wednesday that a firm for which he once worked had been recommended to get the most lucrative contract in state government.
The same panel subpoenaed documents related to state Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein’s dealing with the firm — CNSI — and others seeking the contract.
The firm selection was made in mid-May by a committee of DHH experts. For about two weeks, Greenstein had refused to publicly identify the selection, saying state law forbid disclosure until a joint legislative committee could vet, though not approve, the recommendation.
Greenstein announced CNSI’s selection at a Senate and Governmental Affairs committee meeting during which senators said his confirmation as Gov. Bobby Jindal’s health secretary was in jeopardy if he continued refusing to identify the successful firm.
The Senate panel screens governor’s appointments to top agency positions. The full Senate must approve of the appointments.
Committee chairman and Republican state Sen. Robert Kostelka, of Monroe, said he understands that Greenstein had distanced himself from the contract selection because of his past connections, but that’s not the point.
“I don’t know the difference between a firewall and a stone wall,” Kostelka said. He said the issue “goes to the integrity of the entire DHH.”
Kostelka has been a Jindal administration floor leader.
State Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans, reminded how Scott Kipper — Jindal’s choice for the head of the Office of Group Benefits — ran into trouble with Senate confirmation on the issue of “character and integrity.” Kipper submitted his resignation after the Senate panel’s grilling.
Peterson characterized Greenstein’s initial refusal to disclose as “stonewalling” that flies in the face of Jindal’s promotion of transparency.
Greenstein testified he distanced himself from anything to do with drafting the requests for proposals as well as reviewing and rating responses because of his past connection with CNSI. He said he wanted to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Greenstein was vice president of health care for CNSI from June 2005 to September 2006 when he went to work for Microsoft. CNSI is a Gaithersburg, Md.,-based firm with its technology development center in Chennai, India.
He said CNSI had not been told that it had been chosen.
Greenstein said he did have early conversations with CNSI president Adnan Ahmed as well as officials of other firms seeking the contract for the claims processing and information systems for Louisiana’s $6.6 billion Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.
The current annual cost for the Medicaid Management Information System contract is $34 million, according to DHH’s website. The contract over 10 years is worth more than $300 million.
State Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Gross Tete, questioned Greenstein about meetings with firm officials, lobbyists, e-mails, phone calls and memos. On his motion, the committee approved a subpoena for those records.
Greenstein and DHH Undersecretary Jerry Phillips insisted throughout the confirmation hearing that state law prevented them from revealing the name of the successful proposal until a public hearing called by the Legislature’s health committees.
Phillips said the agency was trying to “respect the committee process” as set out in law by keeping the information secret. He also said the selection will trigger “legal procedures” and protests from those who did not get the expensive contract.
But Democratic and Republican senators kept pressing for disclosure, each pointing out that nothing in law prevented the announcement from being made.
“It seems like someone is trying to cover something up,” said state Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, a frequent supporter of Jindal-backed legislation.
Phillips asked for time for Greenstein and he to consult with DHH legal counsel, as well as the Legislature’s health committee chairs. Phillips suggested that if the committee chairs agreed then the name could be announced.
About 30 minutes later, the trio returned and Greenstein said state Rep. Kay Katz, R-Monroe, and state Sen. Willie Mount, D-Lake Charles, had no problem with the disclosure.
“You have made a good argument and discussion today,” said Greenstein. He said he relied on top DHH staff that had been through the process in the past.
“We have nothing to hide,” Greenstein said. “It is CNSI.”
The other companies who sought the work include HP Enterprise Services, Molina Medicaid Solutions and ACS — A Xerox Company. Molina has the current contract.