The former head of a state employee health plan said Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief of staff once directed him to award a state contract to one of the governor’s campaign contributors.
Tommy Teague said in a recent interview that the governor’s chief of staff, Timmy Teepell, told him that he wanted Vantage Health Plan to receive a state contract to deliver health insurance in the Monroe area.
Teepell said he simply directed Teague to follow state law.
Teague’s remarks come two months after the Jindal administration fired him amid the possible privatization of a health plan offered by the Office of Group Benefits.
When he still headed the agency, Teague said, he met with Teepell and Vantage officials after Vantage lost a contract to offer insurance to state employees, retirees and their dependants.
“(I was told) the administration wanted Vantage to be a player,” Teague said.
Vantage subsequently received a contract to offer health insurance to 6,000 people in the Monroe area, he said.
State Sen. Butch Gautreaux, D-Morgan City, said Teague’s account gives him concerns about the administration’s talk of turning over an even-larger health plan at the Office of Group Benefits to an unspecified private company.
“I have serious concerns over who was promised this book of business,” he said.
Asked about the meeting, Teepell initially said he did not recall one taking place.
“I don’t remember any meetings, but I know I’ve never asked (Teague) to do anything inappropriate,” he said.
After talking to his staff and getting his “mind refreshed,” Teepell said he did meet with Teague and Vantage officials a few years ago.
Teepell said the reason for the meeting was a complaint by Vantage that the Office of Group Benefits was not complying with a 2007 law.
The law — arising from House Bill 247 of the 2007 regular legislative session — required the state to give Louisiana-based health maintenance organizations, like Vantage, an opportunity to contract with the Office of Group Benefits.
A health maintenance organization, known as HMO, offers health care to members from a select group of physicians.
The law conflicted with the direction the Office of Group Benefits was taking toward self-insured plans. With self insurance, companies or agencies assume the risk of costs exceeding member payments rather than paying the insurance industry to take that risk.
“My instruction to the Division (of Administration) and to Tommy was, ‘Look, we need to comply with the law,’ ” Teepell said.
He said an HMO was among a menu of insurance plans offered to members of the Office of Group Benefits. He said members did not have to choose Vantage as their health plan provider.
Robert Bozeman, general counsel for Vantage, said Vantage asked for the meeting because Teague was refusing to offer business to the Monroe-based company despite the 2007 law.
He denied that the Jindal administration steered business to Vantage.
“It’s really disappointing that, now that Mr. Teague has lost his job, he’s making those accusations,” Bozeman said.
He said he has no knowledge that Vantage is one of the governor’s campaign contributors.
Vantage contributed $1,000 to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s gubernatorial campaign in 2007, according to the reports filed with the Louisiana Board of Ethics.
Vantage’s president, P. Gary Jones, M.D. gave $5,000 in 2008. Mary Frances Jones, who lives in the same Monroe house as Dr. Jones, gave the Jindal campaign $5,000 in August, according to campaign finance disclosures.
The Office of Group Benefits provides health and life insurance to about 250,000 current and retired state workers and their dependants.
The Jindal administration fired Teague earlier this year amid its push to hire a private company to manage the office’s preferred provider organization. No reason was given publicly for the firing.
The preferred provider organization insures more than 60,000 people.
The possibility of private sector involvement in the PPO has ignited criticism.
Legislators demanded to see a financial analysis commissioned by the Jindal administration on the agency’s value. The administration resisted, only relinquishing the report after a legislative committee voted to subpoena the records.
The governor contends that, unlike Louisiana, most states don’t pay government workers to manage health insurance. Critics said they fear premiums will rise under the management of a private company.