By: Mark Fitzgerald
Illinois’ Rod Blagojevich is one of several U.S. governors who are attempting to raise their national profile by extending health care to uninsured or underinsured children. Blagojevich calls his state-run health programs “All Kids,” and he trumpets it constantly — especially when, as now, he is in a tough budget fight with the legislative majority leaders of his own Democratic Party.
But when Dean Olsen, the health care reporter for The State Journal-Register in Illinois’ capital city Springfield, requested statistics about county-level enrollment for All Kids, Medicaid and other state-run health programs, he got shut down firmly. The paper wanted the information as part of a series of articles on the county-by-county impact of extending state-subsidized health coverage.
Illinois agencies rejected his oral requests for information. When Olsen made a formal request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the state’s acting freedom of information officer, Mark Iocca, wrote back to say the data was exempt from the law, and that the state was prohibited from releasing it because of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, better known by its acronym HIPAA.
The State Journal-Register is not seeking names of the enrollees, but Iocca told the paper that doesn’t matter.
“You indicated in your request that you were ‘not requesting names of people enrolled in these programs,'” Iocca wrote. “A request that does not ask for names does not alter the applicability of the cited FOIA exemptions (see: Chicago Tribune Company v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, 332 Ill.App.3d 60, 773 N.W.2d 674 (2202)). The information you seek is part of the Department’s clients’ case records and is not directly related to the administration of the assistance programs. Therefore, under federal and state law and regulation, as cited above, the information is confidential and is prohibited from being released.”
Now the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ), a national group with about 1,000 member, is crying foul.