With movement in the state Legislature to overhaul the State Health Plan that serves more than 667,000 state workers, it seemed a good time to dredge up a public records fight we got in earlier this year.
NC Policy Watch asked to find out which legislators were signed up for the State Health Plan but were denied the information in February by a lawyer in the General Assembly’s research division that determined the names of lawmakers who opted to receive the benefit (which costs the state about $5,000 a year for each lawmaker) was a secret. We did find out that 147 out of the 170 were signed up, but it’s anyone’s guess as to who opted for the benefit.
(Go here to read our initial and more detailed story about the request and the reasons given to keep the information secret.)
So that means the public is paying over $723,000 a year for the 147 legislators to get their health care, the only part-time workers in the state entitled to the benefit, but don’t get to know who is getting the benefit.
What’s more curious, is that the same information is considered public by another branch of state government that deals with personnel issues a whole lot more, the N.C. Office of State Personnel. That office keeps track of personnel information for most of the state employees, and is well-versed on what is and what isn’t public and what’s considered private information.
When NC Policy Watch asked in March to see if the Council of State (the nine elected officials in statewide office ) are signed up for the State Health Plan, we were quickly told by OSP spokeswoman Margaret Jordan that, yes, each of the nine Council of State members is signed up for the benefit.
The N.C. Attorney Generals’ Office, which is responsible for advising state agencies about public records issues, said they were contacted about the request for a list of legislators on the State Health Plan but that that a formal legal opinion was never requested. Ordinary citizens don’t have the ability to request formal legal opinions, only state agencies can ask for that.
The GOP-controlled legislature is making major decisions this session about the future of health care in the state, and votes on major pieces of legislation are splitting down party lines. Among the many issues on the General Assembly’s plate are whether state workers should begin contributing money of their own for their insurance and what the future offerings of private health insurance in the state will look like with the implementation of the federal health care reform.
Today, the House is expected to give final approval today to a bill that would “cut benefits, raise deductibles and co-pays by around 17 percent and charge workers a monthly insurance premium for individual coverage for the first time,” according to WRAL’s Laura Leslie.
So, Policy Watch readers, what do you think? Should we know what legislators are getting health care from the state? Does it affect how they might vote on the many health care-related issues facing the state?