Casada Accuses Haslam Administration of Improperly Releasing State Legislators’ Health Coverage Info

Statement from Glen Casada, Chairman of the Republican Caucus of the Tennessee House of Representatives, May 7, 2015:

The following is a statement from State Representative Glen Casada (R–Thompson Station) in response to the Office of Benefits Administration, a division of the Tennessee Department of Finance & Administration, releasing specific lawmaker health plan information to the media, in clear violation of HIPPA standards:

“As stated by the Office of Legislative Administration below, I wholeheartedly believe the release of this information is a blatant violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) standards. In addition, the release of these records is a complete policy shift of both the prior Governor and current Governor’s Administration up until February of this year. Whoever authorized the release of this information showed a clear lack of judgment and, at the very least, should be reprimanded immediately. If this is the executive branch’s way of negotiating with the legislative branch about Insure Tennessee, I would encourage them to strongly and swiftly rethink their strategy.” — State Representative Glen Casada

Background:

  • In 2005, then Commissioner of Finance & Administration David Goetz and Insurance Administration Director Richard Chapman responded to a request from Senator Stephen Cohen denying the release of specific legislator health insurance information based on HIPPA standards (attached to this email as ‘Cohen Letter’).
  • Again in 2007, Finance & Administration officials denied a media request for the release of specific lawmaker health insurance information, stating “HIPPA prevents the state from revealing the names” of lawmakers’ specific benefit information (attached to this email as ‘Potter Letter’).
  • Between 2007 and the start of 2015, this same policy of not releasing specific lawmaker health insurance information was continued, with Finance & Administration officials on January 30th of 2015 citing HIPPA guidelines as the reason for denial of a request from the media for “a list of legislators who are enrolled in healthcare benefits from the state”.
    Special Session on Insure Tennessee begins on February 2nd, 2015.
  • On February 4th, 2015 at 4:16 PM, Administration officials abruptly reverse decade-long policy of not releasing specific lawmaker health plan information when a Benefits Administration public information officer released the names of members on the state health insurance plan to a reporter in response to a public records request.
  • On May 6, 2015, Administration officials again violate years-long policy of denying media requests for specific lawmaker health plan specifics by releasing further detailed information to the media regarding legislator health insurance benefits.

—–Original Message—–
From: Connie Ridley
Sent: Wednesday, May 06, 2015 4:04 PM
To: Senate Members; House Members
Subject: RELEASE OF HEALTH INSURANCE BENEFIT INFORMATION

Members,

I write to inform you that the Office of Benefits Administration, a division of the Department of Finance and Administration, is releasing further detailed information to the media regarding member health insurance benefits.

This is once again a dramatic and unprecedented departure from policy. As you may remember, I wrote to you in February to inform you that Benefits Administration was departing from their policy to release only the number of legislators and staff on the state health plan. Today, Benefits Administration is going further. They are releasing, both to the Tennessean and the Associated Press, not only the names of legislators on the plan but what type of plan they have, as well as the full cost.

The Office of Legislative Administration views this as a blatant violation of member privacy. It is the long standing policy of the Office of Legislative Administration to release only the number of legislators and staff on the state insurance plan. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) precludes releasing names or “any other personally identifying information” as such information is protected health information. It is the opinion of this office that release of personally identifiable enrollment information would be in violation of federal HIPPA privacy protections.

I would like to emphasize that decision was made in the executive branch at the direction of Benefits Administration Executive Director Laurie Lee. The Office of Legislative Administration did not approve of this release nor did we authorize it. Our policy of releasing only the number of legislators and staff goes back decades. This policy was also the policy of Benefits Administration until the concluding moments of this February’s special session on Insure Tennessee. The policy change was made in consultation with Finance & Administration General Counsel Martha Nichols. The General Assembly’s Office of Legal Services was not consulted.

You will likely see media coverage regarding the release of this information over the coming days. I wanted you to be fully aware of what information was being released and from where the information was coming. Following my signature you will find a detailed list of what information will be provided to the media by Benefits Administration.

If you have any questions regarding this subject or any other please do not hesitate to call my office.

Sincerely,

Connie Ridley