Kaiser Permanente gets regulator to bar public access to info that could “discredit” it

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In the midst of a heated contract battle with 80K of its workers, healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente asked its California regulator to bar public access to financial information about the company in order to prevent “pressure groups, including unions” from using it to “discredit” the company.

As Kaiser put it in a letter two months ago to the California Department of Managed Health Care asking for confidential treatment of a portion of its financial report:

As an example, various pressure groups, including labor unions, engage in corporate campaigns against Kaiser. Corporate campaigns attempt to discredit an organization by publicly smearing its reputation, often by exploiting information in questionable ways to sway public opinion. We are concerned that, if released, the Combining Schedule could be mischaracterized or used inappropriately in one of these corporate campaigns, or in another context by a party whose motivation is to gain a private advantage by seeking to harm or discredit Kaiser.

Despite the fact that the DMHC publicly posts on its website this very same financial data about other health plans and that Kaiser is a tax-exempt nonprofit public benefit corporation, it granted the health plan’s request. Five days after hearing from the company, the DMHC rejected my public records request for the information. 

So why is Kaiser so worried that this information could be used to discredit it? What the “Combining Schedule” shows is the flow of money into and between a health plan’s various subsidiaries—and questions have been raised about an unusual multi-billion dollar pension liability that Kaiser’s health plan subsidiary has assumed on behalf of its affiliated for-profit medical group. Kaiser’s concerns about public exposure could have something to do with that... and who knows what else.

At the same time that it has maneuvered behind the scenes to hide this information from the public, Kaiser has been fighting a California legislative proposal that would require it to be just as transparent as other California healthcare entities. That bill is unnecessary, Kaiser says, because “Kaiser Permanente is extremely transparent.”