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21AO:0005

Date: 
Thursday, September 16, 2021
Subject: 
Request for Healthcare Information
Ruling: 

Advisory Opinion 21AO:0005

DATE: September 16, 2021

SUBJECT: Request for Healthcare Information

RULING:

Matthew S. Brick

Brick Gentry P.C.

6701 Westown Parkway, Suite 1000

West Des Moines, Iowa 50266

Sent via email to matt.brick@brickgentrylaw.com    

 

Mr. Brick,

We are writing in response to your request dated August 9, 2021, requesting an advisory opinion from the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 23 and Iowa Administrative Code rule 497-1.3.

We note at the outset that the IPIB’s jurisdiction is limited to the application of Iowa Code chapters 21, 22, and 23, as well as rules in Iowa Administrative Code chapter 497. Advice in an IPIB opinion, if followed, constitutes a defense to a subsequent complaint based on the same facts and circumstances.

BACKGROUND:

The Metropolitan Waste Authority (MWA) was formed by the communities of Polk County in 1969 to uniformly manage waste and comply with environmental regulations. MWA is formed under Iowa Code chapter 28E and is subject to the requirements of Iowa Code chapter 22.[1]

At issue is a request received by MWA seeking, in relevant part, health insurance information of a public employer to include the current contract between MWA and the health insurance provider, a copy of the current summary plan description, as well as claims history and utilization information but not to include individual claims.

Health insurance claims history and utilization history of MWA employees is in possession of MWA’s health insurance provider, Benefits Management Group, Inc. (BMGI), an outside vendor and not a public entity. The above request for information is similar to requests sent from unions across Iowa to public employers when preparing for labor negotiations; however, this request for an advisory opinion only seeks a response with regard to disclosure obligations under Iowa Code chapter 22 and not under Iowa Code chapter 20. Specifically, MWA seeks further clarification on the scope of the term “public records” under Iowa code section 22.1, as well as the right to keep certain information confidential under Iowa code section 22.7.

QUESTIONS POSED:

  1. Pursuant to Iowa Code sections 22.1 and 22.2, as well as the holding in Gannon v. Board of Regents[2], are the health insurance group claims history of public employees a public record?
                a. 
    If the health insurance group claims history of public employees are public records, are they otherwise exempt from disclosure under Iowa Code section 22.7?
               b.If the health insurance group claims history of public employees are public records not otherwise exempt from disclosure, what types of personal information, if any, needs to be redacted from the records before they are provided to the public?

 

  1. Pursuant to Iowa Code sections 22.1 and 22.2, as well as the holding in Gannon v. Board of Regents, is the health insurance utilization information of public employees a public record?

 

      1. If the health insurance group claims history of public employees are public records, are they otherwise exempt from disclosure under Iowa Code section 22.7?

 

      1. If the health insurance utilization information of public employees is a public record not otherwise exempt from disclosure, what types of personal information, if any, needs to be redacted from the records before they are provided to the public?

 

  1. Pursuant to Iowa Code sections 22.1 and 22.2, is any agreement between MWS and BMGI a public record?

 

      1. If the agreements between MWA and BMGI are public records, are they otherwise exempt from disclosure under Iowa Code section 22.7?

 

      1. If the agreements between MWA and BMGI are public records not otherwise exempt from disclosure, what types of personal information, if any, needs to be redacted from the records before they are provided to the public?

 

  1. Pursuant to Iowa Code sections 22.1 and 22.2, is the summary plan description of benefits a public record?

 

      1. If the summary plan description is a public record, is it otherwise exempt from disclosure under Iowa Code section 22.7?

 

      1. If the summary plan description is a public record not otherwise exempt from disclosure, what types of personal information, if any, needs to be redacted from the records before they are provided to the public?

OPINION:

The questions above have been consolidated for the sake of expediency.

I.

Are the following records public records?

  1. Health insurance group claims history of public employees
  2. Health insurance utilization information of public employees
  3. Any agreement between MWA and BMGI
  4. Summary plan description of benefits

As noted above, MWA is a government body as defined in Iowa Code section 22.1(1) and is subject to the requirements of Iowa Code chapter 22. If MWA is the lawful custodian of the requested records (see Iowa Code section 22.1(2) for definition of lawful custodian), it appears that the records would be public records. While MWA’s health insurance provider may be in possession of certain records, Iowa Code section 22.2(2) states that a government body shall not prevent the examination or copying of a public record by contracting with a nongovernmental body to perform any of its duties or functions.

II.

If the records referenced above are public records, are they otherwise exempt from disclosure under Iowa Code section 22.7?

Based off of the limited information and the general nature of the described records, Iowa Code section 22.7(2) may apply on a limited basis to certain records if there are medical records found within the claims history or utilization information.

Additionally, certain portions of agreements between MWA and BMGI may qualify as trade secrets and be exempt from disclosure under Iowa Code section 22.7(3).

Iowa Code section 22.7(11)(a)(1) states that the following information found in personnel files are public records:

The name and compensation of the individual including any written agreement establishing compensation or any other terms of employment excluding any information otherwise excludable from public information pursuant to this section or any other applicable provision of law. For purposes of this paragraph, “compensation” means payment of, or agreement to pay, any money, thing of value, or financial benefit conferred in return for labor or services rendered by an official, officer, or employee plus the value of benefits conferred including but not limited to casualty, disability, life, or health insurance, other health or wellness benefits, vacation, holiday, and sick leave, severance payments, retirement benefits, and deferred compensation. (Emphasis added).

The ultimate decision as to whether the records at issue are exempt under a provision of Iowa Code section 22.7 must be made by the reviewing party.

III.

If the records referenced above are public records not otherwise exempt from disclosure, what types of personal information, if any, needs to be redacted from the records before they are provided to the public?

In addition to the comments provided in sections I and II, there may be other sections of the Iowa Code, as well as federal law, that may require certain information be kept confidential. Any of these additional requirements would be outside the jurisdiction of the IPIB, therefore we are unable to offer guidance on what specifically may need to be redacted from the records.

 

BY DIRECTION AND VOTE OF THE BOARD:

 

Joan Corbin

E.J. Giovannetti

Barry Lindahl

Keith Luchtel

Monica McHugh

Rick Morain

Julie Pottorff

Suzan Stewart

Stan Thompson

 

 

SUBMITTED BY:

Zachary S. Goodrich

Legal Counsel

 

ISSUED ON:

September 16, 2021

 

Pursuant to Iowa Administrative Rule 497-1.3(3), a person who has received a board opinion may, within 30 days after the issuance of the opinion, request modification or reconsideration of the opinion.  A request for modification or reconsideration shall be deemed denied unless the board acts upon the request within 60 days of receipt of the request. The IPIB may take up modification or reconsideration of an advisory opinion on its own motion within 30 days after the issuance of an opinion.

 

Pursuant to Iowa Administrative Rule 497-1.3(5), a person who has received a board opinion or advice may petition for a declaratory order pursuant to Iowa Code section 17A.9.  The IPIB may refuse to issue a declaratory order to a person who has previously received a board opinion on the same question, unless the requestor demonstrates a significant change in circumstances from those in the board opinion.

 

 

 

 

[1] Entities formed under Iowa Code chapter 28E qualify as a government body as defined in Iowa Code section 22.1(1) as an “…other entity of this state, …”

[2] 692 N.W.2d 31 (Iowa 2005).

Printed from the website on January 18, 2022 at 8:03am.