- Associated Press - Friday, December 19, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration has agreed to archive all the state employee health insurance program’s records with the Secretary of State’s office, after refusing for several months to follow the state’s archiving requirements.

Secretary of State Tom Schedler oversees the retention of state records. The Office of Group Benefits, which has been rewriting benefit plans, hadn’t been sending all of its records to Schedler’s office in recent months, despite laws requiring the maintenance of the documents.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said the insurance program stopped sending claims records this summer, because of privacy concerns about sharing personal medical information across agencies.

But in an announcement late Thursday the Jindal administration said it had reached an agreement with Schedler’s office that will again have the claims records archived on microfilm. The microfilm will be housed in an offsite facility deemed compliant with federal laws protecting personal health information - not at the Secretary of State’s archive facility.

“We’ve worked closely with the Secretary of State to find a solution that met the needs of both offices,” Nichols said in a written statement. “Secretary Schedler and his staff take privacy very seriously and have worked with us to develop a system that protects our members and still retains these records appropriately.”

Under the arrangement, once the files have been recorded on microfilm, the paper documents will be destroyed.

Schedler’s office placed “a legal hold” in August on the disposal of any of the documents in the Office of Group Benefits while the agency was making sweeping changes to the state worker health insurance program. The program covers 230,000 state workers, public school teachers, retirees and their dependents, and the benefit changes had received heavy criticism.

Before the agreement was reached, Schedler had sent a series of letters to the Office of Group Benefits raising concerns. He said the office appeared to have destroyed items without the approvals required under state law, and he urged compliance with requirements.

Letters in August and September went unanswered until an Oct. 17 letter in which Schedler said he notified the attorney general’s office about the possible law violation.

Nichols said the health insurance records were backed up electronically before the paper documents were destroyed. As part of the deal announced by the Jindal administration, those files will be sent to Schedler’s office for microfilming and archiving.

“The retention of vital records by our state agencies is critically important, and the Archives is committed to not only monitoring compliance with state laws, but also maintaining public trust in their management,” Schedler said in a statement.

Nichols said the concern about sharing medical records was raised this summer by the administration’s outside consulting firm, Alvarez and Marsal, which recommended ways to restructure government spending, including many of the health insurance changes.


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