Officials differ over releasing legislator insurance info

Officials in two branches of state government have differing views on whether the names of legislators signed up for state insurance benefits should be made public, reports The Tennessean.

Several organizations have been requesting information on legislator benefits since names were released to the AP earlier this month following a Senate committee vote that killed Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan. Six of the seven senators voting no have health insurance through state government.

Connie Ridley, director of the Office of Legislative Administration, says the information should not be released. Martha Nichols, general counsel for the benefits administration office in the state Department of Finance and Administration, says they should.

The difference is in interpretation of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), which generally prohibits public disclosure of personal medical information. Nichols says that doesn’t cover “non-medical information,” including the fact that a public official is signed up for a benefit.

Ridley…(sent) an email Thursday morning to Senate members warning them that more information about their health coverage could become public. She said the office would never release the name of a lawmaker who receives coverage, and a different agency, the Office of Benefits Administration, must have changed its own policy by releasing those names.

In an interview, Ridley confirmed she sent the email. She said that the Benefits Administration first advised her office in 2005 not to release names or other “personally identifying information.”

…At the bottom of her letter, Ridley lists details of six pending records requests: two filed by The Tennessean, one each from the Chattanooga Times Free Press and WPLN and two from organizations that advocated for the passage of Insure Tennessee.

Note: The list of legislators signed up for state health insurance is posted HERE. The initial AP story is HERE.