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State bows to Medicaid provider’s claim of “trade secret,” refuses to release basic performance review

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The Better Government Association has filed a lawsuit in Springfield against the state’s healthcare agency after officials denied records of routine performance presentations from a top Medicaid provider.

State officials denied the request after executives of the contractor — a subsidiary of national healthcare giant Centene Corp. — said disclosure of the quarterly performance presentations they make to state officials would put the company at a competitive disadvantage.

The Centene subsidiary, Meridian Health Plan of Illinois, Inc., collected $210 million under the YouthCare contract over the last 12 months, a spokesperson for the Department of Healthcare and Family Services said on Monday.

Agency Director Theresa Eagleson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson said agency officials could not discuss pending litigation.

The YouthCare program provides payments for the medical and psychiatric treatment of roughly 20,200 youths who are wards of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, as well as 15,700 former DCFS wards.

The contract has rolled out in phases as some foster parents complained they could not fill prescriptions or even schedule regular check-ups for children with serious medical conditions.

Last year, Meridian began producing for state officials quarterly slideshows with basic data about its performance in delivering care. The slides are meant to outline whether Meridian is meeting timeliness and quality standards, and what it’s doing to overcome problems.

But when the BGA asked last month to see those slideshows, state officials turned them over almost completely redacted — with entire slides blacked out.

The contractor’s performance data constituted “trade secrets,” HFS explained in its denial letter to the BGA.


posted by Rich Miller
Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 9:38 am


  1. They should be required to turn over the slides in their entirety.

    Comment by JS Mill Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 9:41 am

  2. Completely unacceptable; the public is denied the right to directly monitor the program and contractor as a result.

    Comment by thisjustinagain Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 9:44 am

  3. HFS is required to make certain information about the mcos performance public by state statute, I’d like to know what information here is so much different. The people of the state deserve, NEED, to know what is being done in their name, what is being done with their money.

    Comment by Perrid Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 9:44 am

  4. No trade secrets when taxpayers are paying $210MM. Also performance indicators aren’t trade secrets. They’re not asking for internal strategy or the sausage making; simply what’s the value for IL in paying hundreds of millions of dollars.

    Comment by ChicagoMike Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 9:50 am

  5. Something I never understood. FOIA exemption 7(1)(g) exempts “Trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person or business where the trade secrets or commercial or financial information are furnished under a claim that they are proprietary, privileged or confidential, and that disclosure of the trade secrets or commercial or financial information would cause competitive harm to the person or business, and only insofar as the claim directly applies to the records requested.”

    Sounds like the third party could slap that designation on anything it provides to a state agency, and so long as the third party makes that assertion, the exemption can apply. What prevents every contractor from putting a “TRADE SECRETS” stamp on everything?

    Comment by Homebody Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 9:52 am

  6. How can one not suspect that the “trade secret” is a misrepresentation of performance?

    The only thing worse than this suspicion is confirmation of the suspicion.

    This is not a good long term business plan.

    Comment by Glenn Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 9:53 am

  7. Very disappointing.
    “The contractor‘s performance data constituted “trade secrets”, HFS explained in it’s denial letter to the BGA.”
    Now that is the Team Pritzker response one would expect.
    Best of luck to the BGA to get any information that should be a routine part of being the transparent government that Pritzker campaigned on.

    Comment by Back to the Future Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 9:54 am

  8. Proprietary knowledge? Always a red flag.
    Move along. Nothing to see here.
    Yeah, right.

    Comment by TinyDancer(FKASue) Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 9:58 am

  9. Horse hockey

    Comment by 100 miles west Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 9:59 am

  10. ==What prevents every contractor from putting a “TRADE SECRETS” stamp on everything?==

    Probably no different than an attorney (maybe even a government attorney) slapping “Attorney Client Privilege” or “Attorney Work Product” on all of their files and boxes. Even on those materials that have nothing to do with litigation or client work.

    Comment by EssentialStateEmployeeFromChatham Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 10:05 am

  11. The public data isn’t great for kids so I can only imagine what the private data looks like

    Comment by Pro-Vax Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 10:05 am

  12. That is a big govt contract to not know how they are performing… must be nice.

    Comment by Bud Keyes Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 10:07 am

  13. If you don’t want your records public then don’t accept public money.

    Comment by illinifan Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 10:07 am

  14. Success, failure, must be hidden to keep contract

    Comment by Rabid Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 10:23 am

  15. Absolute nonsense that only the most insane bureaucrat could find logical. Release the records.

    Comment by Excitable Boy Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 10:28 am

  16. The MOB don’t like Sunshine. I encourage anyone to try to get into a Liquor Commission Compliance Hearing.

    Comment by Al Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 10:31 am

  17. I’ve always understood that exemption to apply to things like details of a product or service within a contract or procurement request, that may involve some intellectual property that a company keeps confidential. Applying it to how a contract is being performed (if I’m reading this right), seems like a big stretch.

    Comment by fs Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 10:55 am

  18. To claim the trade secrets exemption HFS needs to provide “clear and convincing evidence” according to FOIA. Just labeling it a trade secret doesn’t pass legal muster.

    The Public Access Counselor in the Ag’S office has made this clear in binding opinions. From 14-005 and 17-003 respectively:

    14-005 -
    “Simply put, entities that contract to perform services for a
    governmental agency do not enjoy the same ability to withhold information that they do with
    respect to their private contracts.”).”

    “Section 2. 5 of FOIA ( 5 ILCS 140/ 2. 5 ( West 2014)) correspondingly provides
    that “[ a] ll records relating to the obligation, receipt, and use of public funds of the State, units of
    local government, and school districts are public records subject to inspection and copying by the
    public.” The information at issue directly relates to the use of public funds by the District, which
    is a unit of local government.
    Therefore, even assuming, for the sake of argument, that the contracts, invoices,
    and budget documents in question constituted trade secrets or commercial or financial
    information furnished under a claim of confidentiality for purposes of section 7( 1)( g) of FOIA,
    the more specific disclosure requirements of section 2. 5 of FOIA would prevail”

    I would expect HFS to settle this rather than fight in court. Unless the MCO is paid with private money there is zero way for them to win.

    Comment by Hoping for Rational Thought Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 11:21 am

  19. These managed care groups are running over healthcare providers unchecked. Pocketing dollars that should be going toward healthcare and not delivering on the promise of coordinated care or better healthcare.

    Are they doing anything to provide better healthcare to our Medicaid population? Just sucking state Medicaid dollars off the top, and they are getting away with it.

    Comment by Free Reign Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 11:29 am

  20. HFS is among the most well run organizations in government. it is efficient, its staff is highly professional, and its also among the most transparent agencies in all of government. their oversight of the managed care system has led to better care coordination among provides, better healthcare delivery for patients, and better overall value for the state. the contracts with the mcos are well drafted, and maintain high performance standards. all in all, just the tops in everything at HFS. /snark

    Comment by blue line Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 12:13 pm

  21. HFS dropped the ball on this one. The methods, practices and systems of the vendor may well be trade secrets that give them a competitive advantage. They would need to prove that somehow, but it is possible.

    On the other hand, the results they produce for Illinois residents participating in their managed care program cannot be private. Numbers of people treated, numbers of claims processed and health outcomes of people served should be public information for all managed care organizations.

    The legislature and successive governors have sold Medicaid managed care as the secret to saving millions while meeting the needs of the people. Without data to support that model, it looks like a sham.

    Comment by Friendly Bob Adams Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 1:16 pm

  22. It’s almost always the corporation and their Big Law attorney pressuring the government in these circumstances. I won’t hold my breath for the BGA to criticize them.

    Comment by Three Dimensional Checkers Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 1:55 pm

  23. This seems like the start of a pretty straight forward example of when a FOIA officer should be dismissed if they are not able to explicitly demonstrate that someone else owes full responsibility for the decision.

    But perhaps we should just beat the slow drip of facts to the punch and start suggesting that the Director should resign if this is not settled before a court ruling comes down demonstrating the agency is not operated in the interest in of the public.

    Comment by Candy Dogood Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 4:06 pm

  24. Been a few years since viewing a State of Illinois “Contract Template” (V.18.2 the last one seen on the EEC SPO website) but clause 4.16.1 states: “PREVAILING LAW: This contract shall be construed in accordance with and is subject to the laws and rules of the State of Illinois.”

    Yet Section 4 has 26 sections, meaning 25 are explicit statutory language included in 4.16.1. Why not another mandated statutory citation stating progress reports are not “trade secrets” ??

    Comment by Anyone Remember Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 4:39 pm

  25. Under devolution government outsourced safety net services it once directly provided. This is one of the consequences. Public interests (including transparency and our duty to care for the most vulnerable) are fundamentally incompatible with the interests of the corporations that took over the provision of so many vital services.

    Comment by Marine Life Wednesday, Jul 14, 21 @ 4:57 pm

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