Thursday, April 24, 2014

Minn health plans strangling transparency bill

As the legislative session is set to end in less than four weeks a little bill with token opposition is slowly being strangled by the biggest of all lobbying octopuses, Minnesota Council of Health Plans and their members.

The bill's purpose was to overturn a Minnesota Supreme Court decision that made it hard for the ability of government to guarantee privacy protection and access to public data with private parties that do business on the government's behalf.  Government does a lot of business with private parties from social programs to economic development studies on the government's behalf.  The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act was amended some 15 years ago to say that if a private party has contract with government to do a government function they come under the Act.

As the bill passed very easily in both Senate and House Committees and waiting on the floors of each body to pass.  The plans have secretly been lobbying behind closed doors to have data that is now currently public to be secret.  Depending on what legislator, lobbyist, or person involved with the bill it is hard get an idea what they are trying to do.

It is like Kabuki theatre (is a classical Japanese dance-drama. Kabuki theatre is known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers.) at the Legislature on this issue.  There have been three proposals so far to try to deal with the health plans concerns.  One proposal was amended to the bill, SF 1770.

The language was added based on discussion with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the IPAD division of the Department of Administration, Minnesota Newspaper Association, and Minnesota Council of Health Plans.  The language added is this: "governing access to and classification of the data." What the language does is negate numerous statutory privacy rights of individuals who have data with private agencies because they are involved with a government program under contract.  The private entity has data about individuals which they may administer.  For example, a chemical dependency program.

Yesterday the companion to SF 1770, HF 2167 was on the House calendar, but was mysteriously pulled off the docket.  Before being pulled it had two proposed amendments listed to possibly be placed on the bill.  Both amendments would have placed huge holes for transparency and accountability of private parties who have have government contracts.

Now all of a sudden a hearing is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon which is very unusual in the late game of the legislative session.  It is happening because of the power of the health plan octopus and its tentacles and because they want data that is now public to become secret.

The House Civil Law Committee will be meeting jointly with the Health and Human Services Policy and Health and Human Services Finance Committees on Friday, April 25 to discuss HF 2167. The hearing is scheduled for 3:00 PM or 30 minutes after the House floor session in Room 200 of the State Office Building.

Will the backroom machinations in the age of transparency kill a good bill?

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