The Tennessean gives state Tuesday deadline to fulfill July public records request

The Tennessean gave the state a Tuesday deadline to fulfill a public records request it originally made in July last year as it considers asking a court to intervene, the newspaper reported today.

The news organization had requested from TennCare emails and documents related to the state’s massive Medicaid debacle in which it could not properly process applications despite buying a $35.7 million new computer system. (The backlog led to a federal lawsuit, and the agency yesterday said it was firing its vendor Northrop Grumman, and hiring another one.)

After narrowing the request in September, the newspaper got an estimate of $4,139.56 for costs to compile and copy the records, which it paid Nov. 13.

Following is an excerpt from the story:

“We are nearly four months past The Tennessean’s original request and nearly two months past The Tennessean’s payment for the requested records,” Robb Harvey, the lawyer for the news organization, notified Dumitrescu in a letter. “The (Tennessee Public Records Act) requires that public records be made available promptly.”

Kelly Gunderson, a spokesperson for TennCare, said the agency is working to comply with the request.

“We take our responsibility of transparency seriously and work to provide records requests as quickly as possible,” Gunderson said. “However, it is not uncommon for large records requests to take several weeks or even months to fulfill as it takes time and resources to collect, review, and redact records.”

She said the agency has compiled more than 16,000 relevant emails and documents, which are in the process of being reviewed and redacted for privileged information or information protected by federal privacy laws. She said such a process can take weeks because records must be individually reviewed by lawyers.

TennCare’s problems with applications drew fire in June from Cindy Mann, the federal director of Medicaid programs, who said the agency was failing to abide by its legal obligations. A response from TennCare Director Darin Gordon blamed many of the state’s problems on HealthCare.gov. Although the agency made some changes that Mann demanded, it has remained adamant that the federal government, not TennCare, is responsible for a backlog of Medicaid applications.

 

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