Sometimes it’s hard to follow the legal wranglings over open records and open meetings.
But, in the case of University of Kentucky HealthCare and its billing arm, the Kentucky Medical Services Foundation, there are a lot of people who have good personal reasons to be interested in how it operates. They include anyone who:
Pays taxes in Kentucky;
Pays tuition at UK;
Has ever paid a medical bill at UK.
They’re the ones paying if KMSF is not spending the money it collects from the public and patients wisely.
They should join us in telling UK not to appeal Judge Pamela Goodwine’s stern order last week turning down almost all of UK’s stumbling legal theories about why its business should be secret. Goodwine did say UK is not required to release detailed attorney billing records.
At issue in this latest battle with UK over open records is a PowerPoint presentation to the UK board of trustees made by David Douglass, an attorney hired to help UK clean up a mess that arose from its 2013 purchase of a Hazard cardiology practice.
Ultimately, UK HealthCare and KMSF paid over $4 million to Medicaid and Medicare to clear up billing issues and another $1 million to Douglass’ Washington, D.C. firm.
Douglass made the presentation about his investigation of the billing problems, actions to clear them up and how to avoid them in the future at a dinner the night before a regular board meeting. Although the meeting was open to the public, the agenda did not indicate Douglass would make his presentation. Usually official business is not discussed at dinner meetings and no reporters were present.
The Herald-Leader requested the PowerPoint when it learned of its existence, but UK, citing attorney-client privilege, denied the request and said no minutes had been taken at the meeting. When the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office agreed with the paper that the discussion was not privileged, UK appealed to circuit court.
Goodwine opened her legal analysis asserting the “unambiguous purpose” of the law, “is the disclosure of public records even though such disclosure may cause inconvenience or embarrassment.”
She agreed that UK had violated the law by not keeping minutes. “There appears to be some intent on the part of the University to mislead the public about the nature of the ... ‘dinner’ meeting, implying that it was merely a social event,” she wrote.
Goodwine also wrote that UK’s contention that discussions with attorneys, even when no litigation is involved, can be claimed as privileged is “contrary to the plain language of the Open Meetings Act and would entirely subvert the act’s important purpose of preserving government accountability and transparency.”
The details of what went wrong in this deal may well be inconvenient and embarrassing for some at UK and KMSF. But, as Goodwine’s strong words indicate, that’s not a good enough reason to continue the expensive legal battle to keep them secret.
The public has a lot of skin in this $5 million mistake, and the right to know what happened. The UK board must tell the administration to open the records.