Judge orders records released on exchange workers
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A state judge on Thursday ordered the Nevada Division of Insurance to release some documents sought by two media groups involving the backgrounds of workers who help people navigate the state health insurance exchange.
Ruling from the bench after a two-hour hearing, District Judge James Wilson also ordered the state to pay costs and attorney fees, saying the division's delays in complying with the public records law amounted to stonewalling.
The records were sought by conservative magazine National Review, which sued after months of being denied by the agency. The Las Vegas Review-Journal joined the lawsuit. The media groups wanted to determine if anyone with a criminal history had access to people's personal information.
"First and foremost, this is a transparency victory but also a victory for consumers who are being forced to purchase insurance," said Jillian Melchior, the National Review reporter who first requested the documents.
"They have every right to know whether their navigators are bad guys," she told The Associated Press.
Navigators, part of the federal health care reform law, help direct people through online web portals to buy insurance.
Donald Campbell, attorney for the media groups, argued some navigators have criminal backgrounds and are being given access to personal information of others. He said the insurance division repeatedly refused written public records requests from the National Review about the process used to certify navigators.
"This is not just hiding the ball," Campbell said. "They're not even telling you if they have a ball to hide."
"We've asked for all information and all such records detailing this entire process," he said.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Joanna Grigoriev argued the magazine's request specifically asked for information on applicants with criminal records. The agency, she said, is prohibited by law from divulging criminal histories obtained from a national database.
"We cannot disclose the existence or absence of this history," Grigoriev said. She further argued that the division doesn't track who was hired as a navigator by private entities to help people sign up for health insurance on the state exchange known as Nevada Health Link.
Campbell countered that the prohibition on releasing criminal backgrounds does not apply to information gathered from other sources such as court records or even self-admission. He said the magazine determined 11 people certified in Nevada as navigators had some kind of criminal past.
The judge set a deadline of Feb. 13 for the division to comply with the records request and release the applications and background information for about 250 people. Any records the division thinks should be kept confidential are to be summarized in a log for the court to consider by Feb. 28.
Grigoriev said the division might seek a stay of the order to pursue a possible appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.