A federal district court judge has sided with the city-parish, dismissing claims made in lawsuit by the nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation that Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's administration illegally dropped the organization's contract for federal grant funding. 

Judge Brian Jackson, of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, said the nonprofit failed to provide evidence supporting its argument that the city-parish lacked the authority to demand certain patient information and confidential documents related to annual grant funding through the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. 

"We are very disappointed by this decision," Tom Myers, general counsel for AHF, said in a brief statement Tuesday. "We will continue to explore our options to ensure that we can continue to provide the quality services and care that the people of Baton Rouge deserve."

AHF, which opened its first clinic in Baton Rouge in 2013, filed its lawsuit against the city-parish in April 2017, following it up months later with a series of televised attack ads against Broome over her decision to cut off the national organization's share in millions of dollars in federal funding her administration annually divides among local nonprofits and clinics in the nine-parish metro area for HIV treatment and testing.

In its counter arguments, the Mayor's Office claimed the foundation was not complying with grant reporting requirements and therefore was no longer eligible to receive the money.

"This decision confirms that the Ryan Program was following the proper guidelines for administering the program," said Shamell Lavigne, former Ryan White Program administrator for the city-parish. 

Pamela Ravare-Jones, one of Broome's assistant chief administrative officers, said the city-parish looks forward to continuing to provide critical uninterrupted services to service providers within the metro area. 

"I remained confident that the approach used by (Lavigne) with the oversight of Ms. Vernadine Mabry in these efforts followed the highest level of commitment and professionalism," Ravare-Jones said. 

The city-parish demanded certain documentation and patient information from AHF because of the foundation's involvement in the 340B program, another federal program that lets health care providers treating poor people purchase medicine at discounted prices. 

According to previous reports, when a clinic that uses 340B treats a patient with private insurance, the insurance company still gives the clinic the higher reimbursement rate for the patient's medicine rather than a reimbursement equivalent to the cheaper price at which the clinic bought the drug. The extra money can then be pocketed by the clinic.

The city-parish requires those that receive Ryan White money to provide information about their use of the 340B program. But the foundation refused to provide that information, claiming in its lawsuit that doing so could potentially place them in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly known as HIPAA. 

AHF also argued the city-parish placed unreasonable requirements on the foundation in order to qualify for the Ryan White money, and violated the state laws requiring full and open competition when it comes to bids and competitive proposals. 

In his judgment, issued May 22, Judge Jackson said the documentation and records the city-parish requested from AHF would have helped the city-parish properly assess the needs and revenue streams as it related to the foundation's participation in the 340B program. 

Aside from the assertion itself, Jackson said, AHF cited no law and didn't provide any evidence supporting its claim that the drug pricing information was proprietary.

"If the plaintiff does not provide the requested documentation, it may be difficult for (the city-parish) to monitor Ryan White funds because revenue from discounted drugs under 340B and the Ryan White funds are commingled and therefore problematic to distinguish," the judge wrote. 

Jackson went on to write that certain entities are allowed to disclose protected health information to health oversight agencies under HIPAA law. And that includes audits necessary for appropriate oversight of entities participating in government regulated programs where health information is necessary in determining compliance to program standards. 


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