With Obamacare, Not Everything Is Public Information

Sep 27, 2013

Kevin Counihan, head of Access Health CT.
Credit Arielle Levin Becker / The Connecticut Mirror

The nation's new health care law rolls out next week. One essential part of that is a call center to both field questions and enroll people. But it's not clear how much the private company taking these calls, Maximus Health Services, is actually charging taxpayers. 

Maximus was hired by the quasi-public state agency Access Health CT that's running the state's healthcare exchange. So, how much is the company charging the taxpayers to do this work?

To find out, we asked for a copy of the contract with the company. What we got was a contract that was hard to read. Any language that has anything to do with how much Maximus is paid -- both in the original contract as well as in its amendment -- is blacked out.

Kevin Counihan, head of Access Health CT, said, "Redactions are things that typically relate to privacy, and competitive issues from vendors. Is price something that someone should be able to redact? I sure think so. What's the whole point? If everybody knows what everybody is pricing, everyone's going to be pricing at the same level. And that doesn't drive a good deal."

"Is price something that someone should be able to redact? I sure think so." Kevin Counihan

Maximus won the contract in what Counihan called a competitive bidding process. The company has said the contract costs an estimated $15 million over three years. But Counihan says that's an educated guess at best.

State law does allow public agencies to redact things like trade secrets in some cases. But the contract itself includes language that says it's a public document the minute it's signed. I asked Counihan, in the public sector, shouldn't the public have a right to know what the public is paying for something?

"The public should absolutely know what the public can know," Counihan responded. "I completely agree with you. However...there are legal requirements for what can be redacted and what can't be."

The agency says if taxpayers have a problem with that, they can file a complaint with the state's Freedom of Information Commission. 

Access Health CT is an underwriter of WNPR.