• Legislator, state wrangle over health care plans
     | August 03,2014

    MONTPELIER — A lawmaker charges that the Shumlin administration has denied her information on health care financing that it has shared with legislative leaders.

    Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington, continues her legal effort to obtain information on how the administration plans to pay for a proposed overhaul of the state’s health care system.

    Browning filed a lawsuit earlier this year against the administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin over his refusal to reveal a financing plan, or progress on a financing plan, for his proposed publicly financed, government-run health care system.

    The administration is working to create Green Mountain Care, which it hopes to launch in 2017. The administration was required by Act 48, passed in 2011, to give the Legislature a financing plan by Jan. 15, 2013, but it has yet to do so.

    The administration answered Browning’s lawsuit with a motion in June seeking a summary judgement in its favor. The motion argues that the information Browning is seeking is protected by executive privilege because it relates to policy advice offered to the governor.

    “The records Plaintiff seeks are confidential policy advice documents prepared for and/or solicited by the Governor and his most senior advisors on health care financing policy,” the motion reads. “Therefore, the records are protected by … executive privilege.”

    The state has withheld 17 documents from Browning, according to its motion. One set of documents is a series of regular reports to the governor and his staff that describe ongoing work “on the health care financing project, including his interim advice and recommendations.”

    The second set contains PowerPoint slides prepared by Michael Costa, the chief architect of the administration’s financing plans, for the governor, his senior staff and his Business Advisory Council, or BAC.

    “These slide decks contain information shared among the Governor’s most senior advisors, the Governor himself, and others with relevant policy and political expertise in the process of developing options for a health care financing policy,” the motion says.

    The motion states the documents are treated as privileged and confidential because they contain preliminary analyses and policy advice for the governor.

    Browning, who filed suit after her public records request was denied by the administration, has filed her own motion for summary judgement in her favor. She said the state’s own court filings show that Costa’s work has already been shared with others outside the administration.

    In its motion, the state said it has shared information and solicited advice from two groups — the BAC and the Consumer Advisory Council, or CAC.

    The motion also reveals that some work has been shared with members of the Legislature, but not Browning.

    “Mr. Costa also occasionally meets confidentially with others who have relevant policy experience and political expertise, including members of the Legislature, to solicit their feedback and advice for the Governor,” the administration’s motion reads. “The Governor and his senior advisors rely on advice from the BAC, the CAC and others to formulate financing policy recommendations.”

    Court filings show the information has been shared with House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morrisville; Rep. Michael Fisher, D-Lincoln, chairman of the House Health Care Committee; and Rep. Janet Ancel, D-Calais, chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

    “I’m sorry, you can’t claim executive privilege when you share something with a different branch of government,” Browning said. “You could argue that the 24 members of the council are part of the governor’s staff. They can’t argue that Mike Fisher is.”

    In her counter motion, Browning argues that the administration waived executive privilege when it shared the information with those lawmakers.

    Browning said there may have been multiple briefings for those legislators. And preliminary financing plans will be shared with a consultant who will evaluate them, she said.

    “They have them,” she said. “They have a variety of them that they’re considering, but they’re not going to share it. They’re going to share it with the consultant, but not with lawmakers or the public.”

    Neither Fisher nor Smith returned messages seeking comment.

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