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VOL. 39 | NO. 8 | Friday, February 20, 2015

Tennessee legislators want to keep their state-paid insurance information secret

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Republican lawmakers still seething about the release of their enrollment in the state's health care plan want to keep further coverage information from being made public.

The Legislature's administrative director Connie Ridley, who serves at the behest of the Republican leadership, has warned members that more details about their taxpayer-subsidized insurance could come to light even though she argues the information should be covered by federal medical privacy laws.

"I wanted to make clear that the release of this data was not authorized by the General Assembly," Ridley wrote in memo to members after The Associated Press published a list of lawmakers on the state plan.

The contents of the memo were first reported by The Tennessean newspaper Friday.

The issue came to a head following the defeat of Republicans of Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans.

Publi c records released by the state's benefits administration revealed that six of seven Republican senators who voted to kill the measure were on the state's health care plan, including one lawmaker who had angrily claimed during the debate that he was insured through his employer.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press had reported before the special legislative session that 88 of the 99 House members and 28 of the 33 senators are on the state employee health plan, even though they are not considered full-time state employees. The state's taxpayers cover up to 80 percent of their premiums.

The Legislature's administrative office had refused to release the names of lawmakers on the state plan before the special session began, citing privacy provisions in the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

But attorneys consulted by the state Department of Finance and Administration, which oversees benefits to state workers, found that participation in th e insurance program is a public record under state law - much as state employees' retirement benefits are exempted confidentiality rules.

"We consulted with our office of general counsel and also received counsel from the office of the attorney general," benefits administration spokeswoman Joan Williams said in an email. "As a result of that review, our department determined that it was necessary to release the requested information."

Unlike the executive branch, the Legislature is not covered by open records or meetings laws.

Some news organizations and supporters of Haslam's health care proposal have since filed records requests about how much the state is spending on lawmaker health coverage.

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