- Associated Press - Thursday, September 3, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A Minnesota judge dealt UCare a blow Thursday in its legal quest to keep a critical state contract, denying the Minneapolis company’s request to halt an upcoming registration period for public health care programs.

UCare sued state officials last month after losing in a competitive bid for contracts to cover hundreds of thousands of low-income Minnesota residents, arguing the state cut it out arbitrarily and asking the court to both restore some of its contracts and delay sign-ups for those programs scheduled to begin Friday.

The health insurance company’s case can still proceed to trial even after Ramsey County District Judge Robert Awsumb denied its request for an injunction. In his order, Awsumb wrote that the state and other health plans need time to begin preparing to shift UCare’s estimated 370,000 customers to new plans - a massive undertaking that could result in costly delays if the sign-up date was pushed back.

UCare will still get a chance to air its claims that the state was wrong not to offer a contract covering residents on MinnesotaCare or Medical Assistance. But without crucial information that could shed light on the state’s competitive bid such as scores for the companies who submitted applications - Awsumb said he couldn’t delay the registration period, as UCare wished.

“The court intends to provide a forum for that review,” he wrote. “It would be imprudent, however, for the court to prejudge the result in UCare’s favor based on the limited evidence and incomplete record available at this time.”

In a statement, UCare said it was disappointed in the court’s decision. The company has said losing the contracts would result in laying off up to half of its workforce, and is still monitoring individual counties’ appeals to the state to restore UCare as a potential carrier.

“Our intent at this time is to continue to pursue all available options to remain a choice for high-quality coverage and services for low-income individuals and families,” the statement said.

After worrying that a potential injunction could hamper a difficult open enrollment period, Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said she was pleased with Awsumb’s decision. As the state prepares for a possible trial, she defended its competitive bidding process slated to save more than $450 million.

“UCare competed on an even playing field. Their scores overall were lower,” Jesson said. “A full and complete review is going to demonstrate that this was a fair process and that, once again, Minnesota enrollees and taxpayers are getting a good deal.”

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