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Quasi-public health care organization must comply with records law

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    News Media Update         NEW HAMPSHIRE         Freedom of Information    

Quasi-public health care organization must comply with records law

  • State-required public filings by an incorporated health care organization do not exempt it from the state’s open records law, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

Dec. 6, 2004 — The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a non-profit corporation organized to pool risk in an effort to lower health insurance premiums for public employees is a public agency and must comply with state open records requirements. The corporation’s annual public filings do not excuse it from complying with the broad disclosure mandate of state freedom of information law, the court ruled.

HealthTrust Inc. was incorporated by numerous New Hampshire political subdivisions to lower health care premiums for their employees through pooled risk management. Health insurance benefits are administered either directly through HealthTrust or by third-party contract providers. HealthTrust’s board of trustees includes 17 public employees.

The Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire (PFFNH) had requested HealthTrust board meeting minutes and other documents, including HealthTrust’s contract with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. HealthTrust refused to disclose the information and the firefighters’ group sued.. HealthTrust argued that it was not a public agency subject to open records requirements and that even if it were a public agency, the records at issue were protected by an exception to the Right-to-Know Law.

The trial court disagreed and HealthTrust appealed. The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s order to disclose.

Justice James E. Duggan wrote the court’s opinion, referencing its analogous 1997 decision in which the state Housing Finance Authority was deemed a public entity for the purposes of open records law, even though it had a separate legal existence from the state. Applying the standard from that case, Duggan similarly found HealthTrust to be a quasi-public entity subject to open records law because, among other things, it is governed exclusively by public officials and employees, performs an essential government function in providing health benefits to public employees, and manages money collected from government entities.

Duggan rejected HealthTrust’s argument that it was not subject to freedom of information requests because it was already statutorily required, as the administrator of a pooled risk management program, to make annual public filings with the New Hampshire Department of State. There is no New Hampshire law creating the exemption that HealthTrust claimed, Duggan said.

(Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire v. HealthTrust, Inc., Media Counsel: Christopher H.M. Carter and Robert J. Lloyd, Hinckley, Allen, & Snyder LLP; Concord, New Hampshire) RL

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© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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