LITTLE ROCK — The Joint Budget Committee on Tuesday endorsed a $220,000 contract with a Pennsylvania firm to study the state Medicaid program as part of an overall review of Arkansas’ public welfare system.
The panel voted 30-6 to accept a recommendation from its executive subcommittee to pay the Alexander Group LLC $55,000 a month for up to four months to conduct the review with an eye on evaluating proposed expansion of the Medicaid program.
Some budget committee members questioned the need to act swiftly on a contract for a review that few had knowledge of and under a contract for which no request for proposals was issued.
Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, who has been point man for the House Republican Caucus’ push for Medicaid reforms, said he researched companies equipped to conduct such a review and decided on the Alexander Group because of its national reputation.
Westerman said the firm’s owner, Gary Alexander, is a former Rhode Island human services director and Pennsylvania’s former secretary of public welfare. He authored a 2009 global Medicaid waiver under which Pennsylvania implemented Medicaid reforms. Gov. Mike Beebe has requested a similar waiver for Arkansas.
Tom Emerick, former vice president for global benefits design for Wal-Mart, will assist Alexander on the review, Westerman said.
"I think we’ve got an excellent team and the two primary individuals … in the Alexander group working with the Legislature a we tackle Medicaid issues this session," he said.
Rep. John Edwards, D-Little Rock, chairman of the Legislative Council’s executive subcommittee, said the panel accepted Westerman’s recommendation Monday but acknowledged he knew few of the details.
A request for proposals was not necessary because the contract will be paid out of the Bureau of Legislative Research budget, bureau director Marty Garrity told the committee.
The panel rejected requests to delay the vote so members could have more time to study the proposal.
"I agree with having an independent consultant look at this and I knew there was discussion about hiring a consultant," said Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia. "I did not know any specific action was taken or the firm with which we are considering action until late (Monday).
Maloch said he searched for Gary Alexander on the Internet and found that he has opposed the federal Affordable Health care Act and Medicaid expansion from the beginning.
"I want to make certain that we are getting someone that gives us an independent look and this is just awfully quick to confirm or have to approve a contract when most legislators didn’t know anything about it until last night or early this morning," Maloch said.
Westerman said he discussed the idea of hiring the Alexander Group with leaders in both the House and Senate before presenting the proposal to the Legislative Council’s executive subcommittee this week.
Rep. Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock, House Speaker pro tem, said he had not be part of those discussions.
The contract’s approval comes as legislators are considering an alternate to Medicaid expansion that would allow the state to use federal funds to purchase private insurance for the newly eligible,
Along with Medicaid, the review will also cover other programs managed by the state Department of Human Services, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, child-care assistance and operations and administration of DHS.
Lawmakers also asked Westerman why the contract is for four months, when the Legislature is tentatively scheduled to end in mid-April. Westerman said the contract is on a month-to-month basis and he didn’t know how long the review would take. He also said he didn’t know whether a decision on Medicaid could be made before the session ends.