October 26, 2014

Heineman Administration defends bidding process (AUDIO)

The Heineman Administration defends the process it used to choose a different health care insurer for state workers against questions raised by the Nebraska Democratic Party.

Director of Administrative Services, Carlos Castillo, questions whether the party is simply taking a partisan shot at Governor Heineman, a Republican.

“Well, anytime the Nebraska Democratic Party holds a press conference, it pretty much speaks for itself,” Castillo tells Nebraska Radio Network. “This is a partisan attack. This issue was litigated. Blue Cross-Blue Shield sued the state of Nebraska and they loss. So these issues have been decided.”

Nebraska Democrats claim enough suspicion surrounds the awarding of the health insurance contract to UnitedHealthcare that it warrants a legislative investigation. Democrats also point to a state audit which criticized the state division that seeks bids and awards contracts.

A story published this week by the Lincoln Journal-Star raised questions about the process the administration used to make the switch from Blue Cross-Blue Shield to UnitedHealthcare.

The state made the switch July 1st. Approximately 17,000 state employees receive the benefit, which covers nearly 30,000 people.

During a Friday afternoon news conference, Nebraska Democratic Party National Committeeman Vince Powers took a shot at the governor and Castillo.

“We’re alleging there’s enough evidence here that we have absolutely no faith in anything (Gov.) Dave Heineman or Mr. Carlos Castillo say to explain it,” Powers stated. “And we want a neutral body to let us know.”

Castillo asserts the proper process was used, and he and the governor stayed out of it.

“Neither the governor nor myself are involved in procuring goods or services for the state, for this very reason. That’s why we always do it with teams of folks and, in this particular instance, there was a team of about eight to 10 evaluators from throughout state government who did all the scoring on this bid,” according to Castillo. “Not the governor. Not myself. We never get involved in those.”

Though he sees no need for an investigation, Castillo nevertheless says the administration would cooperate if an investigation is launched.

“We’re more than happy to answer questions about the process,” Castillo says. “But, at the end of the day, taxpayers pay 79% of employee health care premiums here at the state and I take very seriously trying find ways to save money. The contract with United is going to save taxpayers between $8-to-10 million annually. That’s a lot of money. That’s why they (Blue Cross-Blue Shield) lost the contract. Their prices are too high.”

AUDIO: Brent Martin interviews Administrative Services Director Carlos Castillo. [5 min.]