Casada blasts release of legislators' health insurance info

More information is coming about the insurance plans carried by state legislators. Rep. Glen Casada is displeased:

“As stated by the Office of Legislative Administration below, I wholeheartedly believe the release of this information is a blatant violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) standards. In addition, the release of these records is a complete policy shift of both the prior Governor and current Governor’s Administration up until February of this year. Whoever authorized the release of this information showed a clear lack of judgment and, at the very least, should be reprimanded immediately. If this is the executive branch’s way of negotiating with the legislative branch about Insure Tennessee, I would encourage them to strongly and swiftly rethink their strategy.”

The letter in question after the jump:


I write to inform you that the Office of Benefits Administration, a division of the Department of Finance and Administration, is releasing further detailed information to the media regarding member health insurance benefits.

This is once again a dramatic and unprecedented departure from policy. As you may remember, I wrote to you in February to inform you that Benefits Administration was departing from their policy to release only the number of legislators and staff on the state health plan. Today, Benefits Administration is going further. They are releasing, both to the Tennessean and the Associated Press, not only the names of legislators on the plan but what type of plan they have, as well as the full cost.

The Office of Legislative Administration views this as a blatant violation of member privacy.  It is the long standing policy of the Office of Legislative Administration to release only the number of legislators and staff on the state insurance plan. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) precludes releasing names or "any other personally identifying information" as such information is protected health information. It is the opinion of this office that release of personally identifiable enrollment information would be in violation of federal HIPPA privacy protections.

I would like to emphasize that decision was made in the executive branch at the direction of Benefits Administration Executive Director Laurie Lee. The Office of Legislative Administration did not approve of this release nor did we authorize it. Our policy of releasing only the number of legislators and staff goes back decades. This policy was also the policy of Benefits Administration until the concluding moments of this February's special session on Insure Tennessee. The policy change was made in consultation with Finance & Administration General Counsel Martha Nichols. The General Assembly's Office of Legal Services was not consulted.

You will likely see media coverage regarding the release of this information over the coming days. I wanted you to be fully aware of what information was being released and from where the information was coming. Following my signature you will find a detailed list of what information will be provided to the media by Benefits Administration.

If you have any questions regarding this subject or any other please do not hesitate to call my office.


Connie Ridley

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BlueCross loses 15% of Tennessee exchange market share

In its second year of offering health insurance products on the federal marketplace, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee lost about 15 percent of its market share, although it still commands more than two-thirds of the market.

The company announced this week 54,460 Tennesseans signed up during the second enrollment period, down from the 133,000 who signed up and paid by May of last year. A good number of those are likely to have migrated to Community Health Alliance, a co-op that has been building its provider network. The insurer's total membership count is now 164,896 Tennesseans, representing 70 percent of the state market, down from about 86 percent in 2014. About 11.4 million people signed up on the federal marketplace nationally, of which 229,000 were Tennesseans.

"It's important for us to have again earned the trust of the majority of those in the market, including those customers who chose us in the first pen enrollment," Henry Smith, BlueCross senior vice president of operations and chief marketing officer, said in a release. "We're pleased that our customers saw the value in our products and service."

Of the 2015 enrollees, approximately 80 percent receive premium subsidies, and 51 percent are 45 or older. The largest percentage of members — 29 percent — live in the Nashville area.

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Ramsey: Kelsey’s insurance exchange bill not necessary

A bill that would block the state from setting up an insurance exchange is nothing more than a political statement by Sen. Brian Kelsey, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Thursday.

“I don’t think that bill’s needed. Once again, sometimes you have overkill,” Ramsey told reporters. “The basic premise of that, if the Supreme Court rules this way or the Supreme Court rules that way and if ‘that’ happens we’re going to do ‘that’ — that’s not the way you pass legislation,” Ramsey said.

Senate Bill 72 is built around a lawsuit now before the U.S. Supreme Court, King v. Burwell, that challenges whether the Internal Revenue Service can write rules to extend subsidies to people who buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s federal exchanges. Should the court find the IRS cannot write rules, Kelsey’s bill prohibits Tennessee from operating its own exchange and blocks the state from putting money for an exchange in the state’s budget.

“That’s more a political statement than it is good government,” said Ramsey.

Ramsey said he has faith Gov. Bill Haslam would come to the legislature first should he want to install a state exchange. An estimated 229,000 people in Tennessee selected health care plans on the federal exchange, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, posing a “big problem” if the federal exchange can’t be used and there’s no state exchange to turn to, Ramsey said.

“I just told him where I was. He rolled it for three weeks after that. That might tell you something,” Ramsey laughed.

Kelsey rolled the bill in the Commerce and Labor Committee Tuesday until March 10, saying he is waiting to meet with the administration about the legislation. 

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