June 20, 2013 — The Senate passed a bill that will ensure a minimal level of public oversight in the operations of coordinated care organizations, but Sen. Jeff Kruse, a Roseburg Republican, objected because it allows CCOs to keep some meetings private that he said were specifically intended to be public.
Senate Bill 725 , as amended by the House at the direction of Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, requires that community advisory councils have at least two public meetings a year. Beginning in 2015, they must hold four public meetings. But the rest of their meetings could still be in secret.
“The community advisory councils should not be allowed to have secret meetings,” said Kruse, bucking the position of the CCO in his district, the Umpqua Health Alliance.
The intent behind these councils is to give the public the opportunity to give feedback to the CCOs about the way they conduct business, said Kruse, who can’t understand how that can happen if the community is shut out.
“That seems counter-intuitive to me,” Kruse told The Lund Report.
His remarks echoed the refrain from Greenlick and Portland Democratic Sen. Chip Shields, who has argued that the public’s business needs to be conducted in public, which includes CCOs that are funded with taxpayer dollars.
By law, CCOs are required to consider the opinions of average citizens and Oregon Health Plan members through their community advisory councils. But there’s a striking disparity between how the CCOs solicit those opinions.
For example, all the council meetings held by Trillium Community Health Plan in Lane County are open to the public, while the Umpqua Health Alliance in Douglas County refuses to release the names of its council’s members. Its community advisory council meetings are behind closed doors but the CCO does hold public forums in the Roseburg area to reveal decisions of the CCO and the council.
“They need to have private meetings because they don’t like some of the people showing up at the meetings?” Kruse quipped to The Lund Report on the Senate floor. “We have public meetings. I don’t like everybody who shows up here, either.”
Kruse had opposed an earlier attempt by Greenlick and Shields to open CCOs to the public — Senate Bill 412 . That measure would have put both CCO advisory councils and governing boards under the open meetings law . But that bill died in the Senate Judiciary Committee where Kruse sits without a vote.
HB 2960 required the support of Rep. Jim Thompson , R-Dallas, who voted for it in committee only to withdraw support under pressure from the Republican Party.
That bill passed committee but was taken off the House floor and sent to the House Rules Committee to die, after protests by Rep. Tim Freeman, R-Roseburg, acting on behalf of the Umpqua Health Alliance, which fiercely opposed holding its advisory meetings in public.
SB 725 was Greenlick’s third attempt to increase transparency in CCOs, which are being trusted with billions of tax dollars to deliver healthcare for people on Medicaid in Oregon but receive limited oversight as quasi-private, quasi-public bodies.
None of the CCOs openly opposed SB 725 because it merely codifies the minimal level of oversight that now exists .
The bill passed the Senate Wednesday 20-9, with nine Republicans in opposition. Not all of them agreed with Kruse, however. At the other end of the spectrum — Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, argued that the CCOs should not be subject to any kind of public disclosure laws.
SB 725 heads to Gov. Kitzhaber to be signed into law.
Christopher David Gray can be reached at email@example.com .