Louisiana’s top health agency is not disclosing the name of the firm it selected to get the most lucrative contract in state government.

State Department of Health and Hospitals lawyers said state law prohibits the agency from releasing the firm’s name until the Louisiana Legislature’s health committees hold hearings on the contract award.

But others dispute DHH’s interpretation of the law.

“It sounds like an administrative decision,” former DHH Secretary David Hood said. “I’m not aware of any provision in the law that prevents release of a name.”

Willie Mount, the Senate Health Committee’s chairwoman, said the legal citation DHH lawyers point to does not indicate to her that the selection cannot be announced once it’s made.

At stake is the vendor that will handle claims processing and information systems for the state’s $6.6 billion Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.

The current annual operating cost for the Medicaid Management Information System contract is $34 million, according to DHH’s website.

Four companies vied for the contract, including one with ties to DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein. They are HP Enterprise Services, Molina Medicaid Solutions, ACS – A Xerox Company and CNSI.

Greenstein was vice president of Health Care for CNSI from June 2005 to September 2006. He has said he took himself out of the selection process because of that past connection.

Contract talks have gone on behind closed doors since March.

DHH earlier refused to release what each firm was proposing, the identity of potential subcontractors as well as the companies’ point people who are dealing with the state.

In a May 16 email, DHH requested that state House and Senate legislative panels schedule a hearing on the contract award.

According to state law, “no award of the contract shall be made until the House and Senate committees on Health and Welfare, meeting jointly or a joint subcommittee thereof, has conducted a public hearing concerning such award.”

Christine Peck, DHH’s legislative liaison, said all steps in the selection process have been completed, and the agency is ready for the hearing required by law.

However, no meeting has been scheduled, and DHH refuses to release the name of the successful contractor.

Lisa Faust, DHH communications director, said lawyers at DHH as well as in the governor’s Division of Administration “agree strongly that we are prohibited by law from announcing the recommendation.”

The lawyers contend that announcing the recommendation is the equivalent of making an award, Faust said.

Rep. Kay Katz, House Health Committee chairwoman, said the law does not require the legislative panels to sign off on the contract award.

“They just cannot award the contract until they tell us what they are doing,” said Katz, R-Monroe.

Katz said she could understand why DHH wants to keep the firm it recommends under wraps as long as possible.

“It’s a huge contract and people want it. The ones that don’t get it turn on the one that does,” Katz said.

Mount called DHH’s interpretation “weird.”

“If you have already made the decision, why can’t you disclose it?” Mount said. The law does not say the agency cannot tell, she said.

Mount and Hood agreed that springing the name of the successful firm on lawmakers at a public hearing gives no time for committees to do their due diligence.