- Associated Press - Thursday, October 30, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Secretary of State Tom Schedler says Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration may have improperly destroyed records in the state employee health insurance program, which is in the middle of a heavily criticized rewrite of benefit plans.

Schedler, who oversees the archiving of state records, said the Office of Group Benefits appears to have destroyed items without the approvals required under state law. The accusations were outlined in a series of letters from Schedler to the insurance program office, urging compliance with the law.

“This Office has reason to believe that some original claim records may have been destroyed without prior approval,” Schedler wrote earlier this month to Susan West, director of the Office of Group Benefits. He described that as a “direct violation” of state law.

The Jindal administration says no health insurance program records were destroyed without first being backed up electronically.

But Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols acknowledged the Office of Group Benefits hasn’t been sending all of its records to Schedler’s office anymore. She said the insurance program stopped sending claims records this summer, because of privacy concerns about sharing personal medical information across agencies.

“None of our records have been destroyed. The question at hand was whether or not specific claims level data, the claims themselves, have to be archived,” Nichols said. “All of those claims have been maintained in our system of scanning and filing and archiving documents.”

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 revamp of health insurance plans has generated loud complaints from Group Benefits members who face higher deductibles and out-of-pocket costs slated to begin March 1. Lawmakers have been flooded with complaints about the insurance program, which covers 230,000 state workers, public school teachers, retirees and their dependents.

The Jindal administration blames rising health care costs and new federal regulations for the benefit changes. But the people most affected are faulting what they consider the governor’s mismanagement of the program.

Nichols said the administration is negotiating with Schedler’s office on a records policy for the claims data that the insurance program currently is refusing to send for archiving.

But Schedler sent letters in August and September expressing concerns about the retention of documents that went unanswered until an Oct. 17 letter told West that “your failure to respond” required him to notify the attorney general’s office about the possible law violation.

“We are absolutely wanting and intending to comply with the Secretary of State’s Office and fully expect to reach a resolution,” Nichols said.

It wasn’t immediately clear Thursday if the attorney general’s office would intervene.

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

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