The court-challenged reasoning of State Procurement Director Edward Armstrong prevailed last week as state lawmakers gave their blessing to a $366 million duo of contracts to provide dental HMO services to Arkansas Medicaid recipients.
Whispers reported last month that DentaQuest of Boston was suing the Office of State Procurement, claiming that Armstrong unfairly disqualified it after DentaQuest finished first in the bidding competition for the work, which is to be split between two vendors.
Later, Armstrong denied DentaQuest’s challenge against MCNA Insurance of Florida, the company whose protest spurred DentaQuest’s ouster. Armstrong’s disqualification of DentaQuest and Liberty Dental Plan, the third-place vendor, vaulted MCNA into position to claim part of the contract.
MCNA’s complaint against DentaQuest was that it had failed to disclose a lawsuit against it years ago in Massachusetts; the company countered that it had been dropped from that suit and that MCNA had failed to disclose even worse transgressions, including fines it incurred running a Medicaid dental HMO in Texas.
Armstrong rejected DentaQuest’s objections, saying the company had responded after a 14-day protest period had ended. MCNA has reportedly enlisted lobbyist Ted Mullenix to its cause.
A Win for MCNA and Delta
Unless DentaQuest can persuade Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen otherwise, MCNA will be awarded part of the contract, along with Delta Dental of Sherwood, which finished second among four firms in the original bidding. Delta, which had also been accused of violating procurement rules in MCNA’s blanket protest, was found faultless by Armstrong.
Legislators on the Review Subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council “appeared comfortable with Armstrong’s answers” about the disputed procurement process during Wednesday’s hearing, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
The lawmakers voted their approval even though a few hoped to put off a decision until after DentaQuest’s lawsuit is adjudicated. The Arkansas Department of Human Services, which oversees the Medicaid program, seemed to retreat from the position it stated in January, when its procurement chief, Misty Bowen Eubanks, wrote a letter asking Armstrong to reject MCNA’s protests.
Her letter, dated Jan. 13 and addressed to Armstrong, stated that her agency had shown that “all applicable laws, regulations and RFP requirements were adhered to” in the procurement process. But DHS officials let Armstrong do most of the talking at last week’s hearings, and he mainly repeated versions of his written responses to the protests.
One person who didn’t get to talk was Lawless Barrientos III, the government affairs director for DentaQuest, who said afterward that Delta Dental has no Medicaid experience and that MCNA has faced problems in almost every state where it has served Medicaid clients.