FOIA for Council Members’ Health Insurance Participation Denied

Last week I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain the names of the Council members who are signed up for the City of DeKalb’s health insurance plan, and have since been denied under the privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), specifically 45 C.F.R. 164.501 and 164.502. [Update 6/6: Link found to be broken, have substituted another.] This essentially means the City’s legal counsel maintains that the names are protected health information, which is defined as individually identifiable health information.

Legal counsel is incorrect. To understand the error, take a look at the definition of health information itself:

Health information means any information, whether oral or recorded in any form or medium, that:

(1) Is created or received by a health care provider, health plan, public health authority, employer, life insurer, school or university, or health care clearinghouse; and

(2) Relates to the past, present, or future physical or mental health or condition of an individual; the provision of health care to an individual; or the past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to an individual.

Did you spot it? They are mixing up the provision of health care with the provision of a health plan.

I’ll keep you posted on the appeal.

6 thoughts on “FOIA for Council Members’ Health Insurance Participation Denied”

  1. Lynn, the public owes you a debt of gratitude for pursuing this.

    It’s yet another in a LONG, LONG, line of wacky legal interpretations coming out of city hall.

    The recent council debates between the city attorney and Alderman Gallagher regarding “equal protection” were more entertaining than a Three Stooges movie.

    Two questions:

    When you say “they” were confused in this denial, whom do you mean?

    What will it take for the city’s legal office to be held accountable for all the folly it routinely promulgates?

  2. I used the generic “they” to stand in for the city. According to the city clerk, the actual decision came out of Legal.

    The City Legal Department asserts that HIPAA prohibits the City from disclosing whether somebody even has health insurance not just the treatment somebody has received or medical information about a person.

    I wonder what decision Mr. Kapitan would have made on his own, being the duly trained FOIA officer on the premises. In fact, why is he the FOIA officer if the info buck doesn’t stop with him?

  3. Fair question, Lynn. Why don’t you ask him and let us know what he says. Accountability is essential, especially of elected officials.

    However, when it comes to some things, what is the council / Mayor / City Clerk to do when they disagree with the city attorney? Hire their own attorney? Who pays for that?

    What if names are revealed and an alderman sues? What if a court rules this was indeed a privacy violation; could the city be held liable for a tort?

  4. Basically then Yinn what the city attorney is trying to tell you and me, taxpayers who are paying for the insurance policies for these aldermen, that we do not have the right to know who our tax dollars are supporting.?

    That is the biggest line of BS! that I’ve ever heard. We have the right to know if they are being insured, we just do not have the ability to look within their files to see their medical history. Our legal department is surely challenged.

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