Tennessean vs. Casada and TSEA on legislator insurance info

Following statements from House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada and the Tennessee State Employees Association, The Tennessean reports that the newspaper is being wrongfully accused of asking the state for personal medical information.

“The Tennessean has never requested personal health care information about lawmakers or state employees regarding our coverage of Insure Tennessee. We have requested how much taxpayers pay for lawmakers to have state health insurance,” said Maria De Varenne, news director of The Tennessean.

“The number of incorrect, uninformed statements and lies is astounding. Voters should expect and demand honesty and leadership from lawmakers, not duplicity.”

A reader emailed The Tennessean a response to questions about the records requests the reader sent to House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin.

“No one is asking for records of treatments, conditions, or personal health issues. We have a right to know the COST of our government and how it is spent,” the reader wrote in the Friday email to Casada.

Casada responded Saturday — after Gov. Bill Haslam, an attorney for the state Benefits Administration and other legislative leaders said Friday the records were public information — and told the reader that’s “exactly” what The Tennessean wants.

“You are in error, this is exactly what the Tennessean is asking for; how much the state paid for specific procedures, and to whom it was paid to,” Casada wrote.

Tennessee State Employee Association President Bryan Merritt repeatedly accused “the media” of violating federal health laws by publishing how much money the state and lawmakers spend on their health insurance premiums. The union did not cite The Tennessean by name.

…Casada and Merritt are incorrect. (The story then reviews the information requested.

…After The Tennessean sent a copy Tuesday of the previously published February public records request to Casada, the lawmaker said he assumed the news organization requested information it did not.

“It is common knowledge that legislators have the option of receiving insurance benefits as part of their compensation packages. So, it was logical to conclude The Tennessean was trying to find out deeper details of state health plans, including doctor information, specific procedures and other personal background,” Casada said in a statement.

In a different statement earlier Tuesday to The Tennessean, he argues he’s been upset about the “process” of releasing the records, not the fact The Tennessean wanted to know how much the state pays for lawmaker health care.

“The issue, from the beginning, has been about the process itself and the fact that legislators were never consulted or kept in the loop before information was released,” Casada said.

Note: The TSEA’s latest press release on the matter is below.

News release from Tennessee State Emoloyees Association:
Statement by TSEA President Bryan Merritt on publishing detailed personal information about state employees

A citizen shouldn’t have to forfeit their privacy rights by choosing a career in state service or by electing to receive a benefit offered to them as part of their compensation. The recent publishing by the media of certain state employees’ detailed personal information in an effort to disgrace those employees sets a troubling precedent.

As we have indicated before, TSEA has no position on Insure Tennessee; unfortunately, the debate by the media has moved away from the merits of the proposal and on to publically shaming state employees, i.e. legislators that voted against Insure Tennessee who have access to a group insurance plan as part of their compensation package from the state.

First, our state health insurance is not a tax-payer subsidy. It is a benefit of employment that every state employee earns by their service to the state of Tennessee, including our state legislators.

Simply funding something with taxpayer dollars does not automatically make it a taxpayer subsidy. State employees’ taxpayer-funded salaries are not considered subsidies; neither should other parts of their compensation package. Claiming otherwise is simply misleading and untrue.

Secondly, detailed personal information about state employees should remain private, especially federally protected health information.

In addition, legislators shouldn’t have to fear personal retaliation as a result of executing the duties of their office, even if the public is outraged by the outcome. If we don’t agree with a lawmaker’s decisions, we should vote them out.

Nevertheless, we find the recent Insure Tennessee-motivated attacks by the media toward state employees troubling and disappointing, and we hope a different strategy emerges; one which respects the privacy of our civil servants and observes federal HIPPA privacy protections.