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California Health Exchange Secrecy: Golden State’s Dirty Little Secret?

By Michael R. Blood

LOS ANGELES — A California law that created an agency to oversee national health care reforms granted it broad authority to conceal spending on the contractors that will perform most of its functions, potentially shielding the public from seeing how hundreds of millions of dollars are spent. The degree of secrecy afforded Covered California appears unique among states attempting to establish their own health insurance exchanges under President Barack Obama’s signature health law. An Associated Press review of the 16 other states that have opted for state-run marketplaces shows the California agency was given powers that are the most restrictive in what information is required to be made public.

In Massachusetts, the state that served as the model for Obama’s health overhaul, the Health Connector program is specifically covered by open-records laws. The same is true in Idaho, where its exchange was established as a private, nonprofit corporation, and in New Mexico. The Maryland Legislature subjected its exchange to the state’s public information act, but protected some types of commercial and financial information.

In California, the explicit exclusions from open-records laws may run afoul of the state constitution, said Terry Francke, head of Californians Aware, a group that promotes government transparency.

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