Tuesday, March 31, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

State health exchange will spend in secrecy

By
From page A2 | May 09, 2013 |

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California law that created an agency to oversee national health care reforms granted it sweeping authority to conceal spending on the contractors that will perform most of its functions, creating a barrier from public disclosure that stands out nationwide.

The degree of secrecy afforded Covered California appears unique among states attempting to establish their own health insurance exchanges under President Barack Obama’s signature health law.

An Associated Press review of the 16 other states that have opted for state-run marketplaces shows the California agency was given powers that are the most restrictive in what information is required to be made public.

In Massachusetts, the state that served as the model for Obama’s health overhaul, its Health Connector program is specifically covered by open-records laws, rather than providing exemptions from them, as is the case for contracting in California.

In Idaho, where its exchange was established as a private, nonprofit corporation, and in New Mexico, agencies specifically must comply with open-records laws. The Maryland Legislature subjected its exchange to the state’s public information act, but protected some types of commercial and financial information.

In California’s case, the exclusions may run afoul of the state constitution, one legal expert said. Exchange spokesman Dana Howard said the agency complies with the law but declined to discuss in detail how it determines what is public and what is not.

“I’m not going to go down item by item, about how it is and what kinds of meetings and what was talked about,” he said.

It’s routine in government to keep bids secret until contracts are awarded, so one vendor does not get an unfair advantage over others. After a bid is awarded, contracts generally become fully public.

In setting up the California exchange, lawmakers gave it the authority to keep all contracts private for a year and the amounts paid secret indefinitely. “Except for the portion of a contract that contains the rates of payment, contracts entered into pursuant to this title shall be open to inspection one year after their effective dates,” reads the code specifying what exchange records are exempt from public disclosure.

According to agency documents, Covered California plans to spend nearly $458 million on outside vendors by the end of 2014, covering lawyers, consultants, public relations advisers and other functions.

Other exchange records that are allowed to be kept secret include those that reveal recommendations, research, strategy of the board or its staff, or those that provide instructions, advice or training to employees. Minutes of the board meetings also are exempt from disclosure.

The indefinite ban on releasing rates of pay to companies and individuals receiving contracts also goes beyond exemptions for other state health programs, such as Healthy Families, which withholds rates of pay from disclosure for up to four years, but not permanently.

If the Legislature wants to limit access, the state constitution requires that it produce findings that demonstrate the need for shielding information from the public. In the bill that authorized the exchange, the Legislature devoted two sentences to address that issue. It argued the cloaked spending was “necessary” to protect “powers and obligations to negotiate on behalf of the public.”

Those provisions are vulnerable to being declared unconstitutional, said Terry Francke, head of Californians Aware, a group that promotes government transparency. He said the Legislature simply made a statement in the law, with no details or evidence to support it.

He said, in essence, lawmakers are saying they need it because they need it. The Legislature should have answered the questions, “Why couldn’t the exchange do its job without this secrecy? What’s the worst that could happen?” Francke said.

In response to an AP public records request, the agency released information on a dozen competitively bid contracts issued since early 2011. They included $14 million for an 19-month contract with Ogilvy Public Relations for marketing and other services; $400,000 for Pricewaterhouse Coopers for a four-month deal developing a small business program; and $327 million for a five-year deal with consulting giant Accenture to develop a web portal and enrollment system for those who will seek coverage.

Those contracts also are accessible on the agency’s website, along with about two dozen requests for services the agency has published. But it’s not clear how many contracts the agency has executed, for how much or with whom. Staff counsel Gabriel Ravel said in an email that the agency “exercised its discretion to waive this exemption” for the contracts it released to AP. However, “all other existing contracts are confidential and privileged,” he wrote.

The closeted spending was quietly authorized in a bundle of amendments added to the bill just days before it was passed by the Senate and Assembly during a blitz of activity in August 2010, when California was sprinting to become the first state to embrace the most extensive health care changes since Medicare.

Legislative staffers who worked on the technical language in the bill discussed the possibility of limiting the scope of the records exemption but settled on making it comprehensive after concluding it was not practical to try to determine what should be left out.

No public hearing was held on the provision because legislative leaders did not consider it substantive enough to send the bill back to committee for an airing, according to the office of Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles.

Statements issued to the AP by his office said the bill met the constitutional test and “contains the relevant findings,” while striking a practical balance between the need for confidential rate negotiations with medical plans and a board that meets in public and is covered by open-meetings law.

“At the time of the drafting of the bill in 2010, this was a non-controversial, technical provision modeled on the same exemption long provided to successful government health insurance programs, including the state’s Healthy Families Program,” one statement said.

Perez’s account that there was agreement on the confidentiality rules in the Senate Health Committee was disputed by former Sen. Sam Aanestad, a Republican on the panel who said he opposed those blanket privacy rules as well as the broader bill creating the exchange.

“This is such an untested field, there has to be strict illumination and oversight from day one,” said the retired oral surgeon. Empowering bureaucrats to make unilateral decisions on access to contracting records “bodes for disaster.”

————

By Michael R. Blood. Associated Press writers Steve LeBlanc in Boston, Barry Massey in Santa Fe, N.M., John Miller in Boise, Idaho, and Brian Witte in Annapolis, Md., contributed to this report.

Comments

comments

The Associated Press

.

News

Special playground dedication slated

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A1

 
Coroner confirms West Davis deaths were murder-suicide

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
‘Old Autos’ at Hattie Weber Museum

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Davis tops list of best schools for the buck

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A4

Lenten giving project highlights climate justice

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
DCCNS plans open house April 8

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Parent-child open house previews new Waldorf classes

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Summer garden alert!

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

Davis FFA and ag students host plant sale

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A4

 
Poker tourney benefits DMTC

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Camp Shakespeare begins Saturday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Neighbors invited to adopt Willow Creek Park

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

Yolo animal shelter seeks donations

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A5Comments are off for this post

 
RSVP for Gerber Young Community Leader reception

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Pence Gallery recruiting volunteers

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
Move over, Muggles

By Wayne Tilcock | From Page: A5

Tour de Cluck has selected its coops

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5 | Gallery

 
CBH hosts Passover Community Potluck Seder

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

City extends nomination period for Huynh Awards

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

 
Parenting class meets Tuesdays

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

 
Meeting examines Northstar Pond priorities

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

.

Forum

Maybe he loves the outdoors …

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

 
Why can’t we be friends?

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

.

Sports

Over the years, The Show has been a reach for Davis

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
UC Davis opens hopeful spring football camp

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

A very palpable hit

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
 
UC Davis plays 7 of next 8 softball games at home

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

Sleiffer leads Aggie tennis win versus Montana

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Snubbed Temple, returning Stanford highlight NIT semis

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

Grizzlies beat Kings to end three-game skid

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10 | Gallery

 
.

Features

.

Arts

30 years of dance in Davis with Pamela Trokanski

By Chloe Lessard | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Dance the night away at house party

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

‘A Year with Frog and Toad’ a delightful family show

By Bev Sykes | From Page: A9 | Gallery

 
Mischief to play at Picnic in the Park

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9 | Gallery

Yolo Mambo will play at winery

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

 
Thursday Live! plans a blues party

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

Jane Lynch performance rescheduled to August

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A9 | Gallery

 
Hear some April Fool’s night jazz

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

 
.

Business

.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Comics: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 (set 1)

By Creator | From Page: B5

 
Comics: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 (set 2)

By Creator | From Page: B7