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Attorneys for Humana and UnitedHealthcare asked a judge Monday to order the rebidding of a contract awarded to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana to administer the HMO plan for state workers, retirees and their dependents.

Lawyers representing Blue Cross and the state Office of Group Benefits urged state District Judge Mike Caldwell to affirm the contract.

The judge took the arguments under advisement and said he will issue a ruling Dec. 15.

Humana had held the HMO contract for 20 years. UnitedHealthcare previously held a contract with the state to administer an exclusive-provider organization plan, or EPO.

Five months ago, Caldwell ordered the state to reconsider its award of the HMO contract to Blue Cross. All sides were back in his court Monday after the state decided to stand by its decision.

The Office of Group Benefits has traditionally offered a statewide health maintenance organization (HMO) plan and a nationwide EPO plan to eligible state employees, retirees and their dependents.

The Office of Group Benefits sought proposals last fall from companies interested in administering the HMO and EPO plans.

Humana and UnitedHealthcare claim in lawsuits that OGB specifically stated it was seeking someone to administer the HMO "on a statewide basis." The suits contend nationwide networks were not sought.

When Blue Cross was awarded the HMO contract over Humana and UnitedHealthcare, the suits allege, Office of Group Benefits Chief Executive Officer Tommy Teague sent a letter stating the office had decided to withdraw the EPO.

Teague explained in the letter that because Blue Cross was offering a nationwide network as part of its HMO proposal, it was unnecessary to offer the EPO plan, the suits say.

Teague testified earlier this year in Caldwell's court that the Office of Group Benefits is folding the EPO plan into the HMO plan.

UnitedHealthcare attorney John Edward argued Monday that the contract ultimately awarded to Blue Cross violated state bid law because "bidders were deprived of the opportunity to bid on a consolidated (HMO/EPO) contract."

"It's not fair the way they (the state) did it," Humana attorney Phil Franco added. "If you want to change it to one contract, rebid it as one contract."

Blue Cross attorney Brandon Black argued that all bidders were on the same page and there was "no confusion here."

Wendell Clark, an attorney for the Office of Group Benefits, told Caldwell the Blue Cross proposal "was the best deal that was offered."

Clark, who said the office did not "contrive" a new contract, also argued that a rebidding of the contract would be costly to the state.

Edward denounced that argument, saying the state might get a better deal and adding, "Do it right."

The HMO covers more than 114,000 employees, retirees and their dependents. The EPO covers 37,000-plus workers, retirees and dependents.

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Information from: The Advocate, http://www.2theadvocate.com

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