MINNESOTA COALITION ON GOVERNMENT INFORMATION
Minnesota Senate Judiciary, February 26, 2018
Testimony in support of HF 1517
Thank you Mr. Chairman and Senators. Matt Ehling, Minnesota Coalition on Government Information. I am testifying in support of SF 1517, and will limit my comments to technical aspects of the amendment language.
The main point we would like to raise about the bill as amended, is that provisions of this bill have similarities and analogs to other, existing provisions of law.
1) To begin, the bill would require HMOs to provide certain data – specifically, records about the resolution of quality of care complaints – to the Department of Health. Under the current statute, HMOs are required to maintain records about these complaints, but they only have to provide statistical summaries about the complaints to the Commissioner. Under SF 1517, providing records about the resolution of complaints would also be mandatory.
I would note that mandatory data production is not at all unusual in the current relationship between HMOs and their state regulators. Mandatory reporting is already part of the information management reality for HMOs under Chapter 62D, as well as under Minnesota Statutes 256B.69. Under 62D.08, HMO entities are already required to report a wide variety of information to the Department of Health, including financials, enrollment numbers, and performance information. Under 256B.69, HMOs must report additional data to the Department of Human Services, including administrative expense reporting, data on client satisfaction, and service utilization. So the requirement in this bill that HMOs vest quality of care complaint records with the Commissioner of Health is neither unusual or novel.
2) Secondly, I would like to speak to the data classification status of the record provided under this bill. The bill would classify the record provided to the Commissioner as either “confidential” or “protected nonpublic” data, but the bill also provides an exception to that classification. The exception is that the individual who made the complaint can access certain parts of the record.
For background, “confidential” and “protected nonpublic” status are data classifications under Minnesota law that are routinely applied to sensitive data, such as investigative data. For example, criminal investigative is classified as “confidential” or “protected nonpublic” while the investigation is active. These classifications mean that only the government entity holding the data can access the data. As I’ve noted, this bill provides an exception to that protected status, by allowing the complainant to access certain parts of the record.
This exception would not be unique, however, as there are other exceptions to “confidential” and “protected nonpublic” data elsewhere in Minnesota law. For example, there are statutory provisions in the criminal, human rights, and licensing contexts that provide government entities with the ability to release confidential data for specific purposes, as allowed by statute. In the criminal investigative context, for instance, investigative data can be released to crime victims in certain instances, and law enforcement agencies are permitted to release confidential data to promote public safety. Access exceptions to the general treatment of confidential data have been added by the legislature over time, to promote specific public policy goals.
3) Finally, I would like to speak to the mechanics of how redactions would work under this bill. The bill states that “the commissioner shall assure that all parts of the record that do not identify individuals” are accessible to the complainant, meaning that such individual data would need to be redacted before the record is presented to the complainant. It is long-standing practice under Minnesota’s Data Practices Act for government entities to make redactions to protected data before disseminating.
The most relevant point of comparison here is to how Minnesota law treats proprietary business data held by government entities – what is called “trade secret” data under Chapter 13. When government entities receive trade secret data from private companies, they have a legal obligation to evaluate the data, and to apply any necessary redactions before releasing the data in any form. Under Chapter 13, it is the responsibility of the government entity to make redactions.
Similarly, as contemplated by this bill, redactions to the record would be handled by the government entity, and they would be applied to obscure the identify of any named individuals within the record.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak in favor of the bill today, and I would be happy to speak to any questions you may have.