Editorial: University calling the PEIA black
09/06/2013 - The Dominion Post
MORGANTOWN - If familiarity did breed contempt, we would be beside ourselves by now with scorn for WVU. But the truth is, we are unequivocally in the university’s corner on this one.
If WVU likes it can even use this essay as a friend of the court editorial. That’s if its feud with the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) goes that far. This week we reported WVU may take further legal action against PEIA in an effort to get certain data from that state agency. This dispute has been ongoing for nearly five years and it appears there’s still no resolution in sight.
During that interim, the university has filed Freedom of Information Act requests with PEIA for aggregate data on the amount WVU employees pay PEIA, the dollar amount of claims paid out and other such numbers. Those requests have never sought anything resembling information that singles out any individual. But the PEIA has denied each of those requests by claiming that release of such data would violate health care privacy laws. That’s nonsense and the PEIA knows it. In the private sector, when an employer shops its health care insurance benefits, providing that kind of information to potential new carriers is a given.
WVU employees have every right to know the information the university is seeking. There’s no dotted line here, but if WVU opts to use our argument in any petition to bolster its own views — or any rationale consistent with them — it might want to clip out what’s below. We find it ironic that WVU should cry foul about any agency’s wrongheaded or lack of response to FOIA requests.
Our newspaper has been filing such requests with the university for nearly a year to obtain particular financial information that should be public. During that period, the university has thrown up roadblocks around every curve. If not milking the process by seeking requests for clarifications — “lacks specificity” — of our FOIA requests and denying them later, it was asking for countless extensions. Or our questions were simply met with silence — no comment, no questions, no interviews.
Despite our doubts, it would be nice to see WVU’s experience with pulling teeth from PEIA open its eyes to transparency. Regardless of how our efforts turn out, our newspaper will continue to advocate, no, champion the Freedom of Information Act. Some may not respect the letter or spirit of a law once they know its flaws, or loopholes. However, our support for the public’s right to know is not diminished a whit by hypocrisy.