No quick answer for UCare in fight to maintain public programs; judge vows ruling next week

There were no quick answers Friday for UCare or Minnesota officials in the Minneapolis health care provider's case against the state, as a Minnesota judge said he'll decide sometime before a key deadline next week whether to give the company more time to win back its public health plan contracts.

UCare sued state officials earlier this month, alleging the state arbitrarily cut the company out during a statewide bidding process for contracts to cover hundreds of thousands of low-income residents on public programs. The company asked to halt the upcoming start of sign-ups, currently scheduled for Sept. 4.

During the case's first hearing Friday, Ramsey County District Court Judge Robert Awsumb told the two sides he would make a ruling on UCare's request for an injunction before that date.

Time is ticking for the Minneapolis health care provider and its 370,000 enrollees, who would need to pick a new plan if the state's contracting plans move ahead. Without that sizable portion of its business, UCare has said it would be forced to cut as much as half of its workforce.

Attorney Larry Espel said the company was given little explanation for why its bid didn't pass muster, but said the state should have given more weight to recommendations from the dozens of county boards that have voiced a preference for working with UCare. UCare is asking the judge to put it back in line with the state to negotiate contracts in the 55 counties that have passed those recommendations.

"We can't explain why UCare has so dramatically fallen from grace that (the state) is prepared to extinguish us," Espel said.

But Assistant Attorney General Scott Ikeda said UCare's request would be illegal — a judge could only order the state to redo its competitive bidding entirely.

Ikeda painted UCare as a sore loser in a competitive bidding process. Though he said the state can't release its scoring from the bids until all contracts are finalized this fall, Ikeda said UCare's bid just didn't measure up to its competitors.


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