CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s a new $200 million taxpayer-funded medical program for children in the state’s care, but if you want to know how it’s working out, you can’t. The state isn’t releasing that information.
CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reports one group is now suing to get that information, on the basis that the public has a right to know.READ MORE: With COVID-19 Omicron Variant Cases Being Identified In U.S., Local Public Health Officials Are On High Alert
It’s the latest concern about the YouthCare managed care program, concerns CBS 2 began highlighting a year and a half ago.
About 36,000 current and former foster children and wards of the state rely on YouthCare, a new managed care program, for their medical needs. The switch to this for-profit program happened Sept. 1, 2020, despite foster parents and child advocates concerns voicing concerns a year ago that care could get worse.
“I would say that my concerns have intensified given, you know, the pandemic,” Grace Brown said last August.
“I think we’re in big trouble on September 1,” attorney Brian Finley said at the time.
Ten months and $210 million in taxpayer funds later, the Better Government Association wanted to know if YouthCare – managed by for-profit Meridian Health – is working. Imagine the surprise when the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services turned down their request for information, claiming it would give away trade secrets.
“These are records about the performance of a company being paid with taxpayer dollars that is in charge of caring for some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens,” said BGA senior investigative reporter David Jackson.
So the BGA sued to get the information, filing a lawsuit on Tuesday to force the state to make that information public; to force transparency, something Gov. JB Pritzker and other state leaders consistently claim to be a top priority.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Early Morning Showers; Mild Day Friday
“To say it’s disappointing is an understatement,” said Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert, who voiced concern about this managed care program even before it began. “We just want to know how’s it going? What’s the performance data? And they won’t give it to us.”
Even the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services doesn’t really know how the overall program is going. A spokesperson told the BGA it monitors individual care cases, not the overall program.
“For the State of Illinois to be asserting a trade secrets defense on behalf of a for- profit corporation its contracted with is just absurd,” Golbert said.
CBS 2 reached out to DCFS about any concerns officials there have about the data being kept secret, and to ask why they have no handle on how the managed care program is working.
Spokesman Bill McCaffrey issued the following statement:
“DCFS advocates for the children in our care and works hard to make sure that each child receives the health care they need. DCFS does not oversee the YouthCare contract and questions related to the contract should be directed to The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services and Meridian.”
Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services spokeswoman Jamie Munks said the department’s contracts with vendors “require each party to keep certain information confidential, including documents submitted to the state that have been determined by our vendors to be confidential and proprietary.”MORE NEWS: Jussie Smollett Trial: Defense Attorney Calls For Mistrial And Accuses Judge Of Lunging At Her; Judge Denies Claims And Motion
“Portions of the documents requested by the BGA were determined by our vendor to be proprietary and containing commercial information that could cause competitive harm if released. The Department has requested Meridian consider consenting to the release of the information that was redacted, but without their consent the Department is bound by its contract. As a result, the Department responded to the FOIA by providing the requested documents, but with certain information redacted, as permitted under Section 7(1)(g) of the Freedom of Information Act. Further questions as to the determination to keep this information confidential should be directed to Meridian,” Munks added.