Blagojevich mum on FamilyCare health program

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.–First, Gov. Rod Blagojevich gave out state-subsidized health care without permission.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.–First, Gov. Rod Blagojevich gave out state-subsidized health care without permission. Now, he won’t tell taxpayers how many people are participating, how much tax money has been spent or even which state account he’s using to keep funds for the program. The Department of Healthcare and Family Services’ rejection of The Associated Press‘ request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act amplifies the mystery surrounding Blagojevich’s FamilyCare program and the administration’s reputation for secrecy after promising open government. It comes 3-1/2 weeks after a state appellate court ruling questioned whether the records even exist. The ruling upheld a lower-court order last spring that Blagojevich dismantle the program he didn’t have authority to expand. Barring a Blagojevich victory on appeal to the Supreme Court, the information will be crucial as HFS tries to unravel what it’s created. The AP requested, among other things, the number of those signed up, the total amount of income-based premiums paid by participants — who might lose coverage after the court rulings — and the total spent. "It should be readily available there for our staffs and the general public. Most other states actually give out (numbers of) enrollees by county," said Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, chairman of the House Insurance Committee and co-chairman of the Legislative Audit Commission. "I can’t understand a denial of what should be public information." HFS rejected the request under exceptions in state freedom of information law for releasing information that could jeopardize an administrative enforcement hearing or data related to insurance "claims, loss or risk management information." Releasing the number of participants by county, the denial letter said, would violate federal and state laws against disclosure of "individually identifiable health information." HFS didn’t explain what administrative enforcement hearing is under way or how the other exemptions apply. HFS Director Barry Maram has not returned calls from the AP and his public information officer has failed to answer questions in e-mails and phone calls. Lucio Guerrero, spokesman for the Democratic governor, did not return a call seeking comment. Senate Insurance Committee Chairman William Haine, an Alton Democrat, said Blagojevich is hurting himself because the data might help him convince the Democratic-controlled General Assembly to do what he wanted in the first place. Blagojevich sought universal health care last year, but legislators said no. Then he focused on increasing eligibility for state-subsidized FamilyCare to an income level of $83,000 for a family of four. A bipartisan legislative rules-making body said no — twice. Secretary of State Jesse White also said no. Blagojevich proceeded anyway, claiming executive authority. Two prominent businessmen and a Chicago lawyer sued. Now Cook County Circuit Judge James R. Epstein has ordered HFS to explain how it’s going to disassemble the program, despite a possible Blagojevich appeal. The administration hotly disputed the appellate court’s claim in September that the administration can’t identify participants, contact them, monitor payments or say where premium payments are and how much remains. HFS spokeswoman Annie Thompson said, at the time, HFS lawyers simply did not have the information on hand when Epstein requested it at an April hearing. But none has been disseminated since. AP ______ Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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