The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is refusing to disclose financial details regarding a contract with a private firm managing its AirCare helicopter ambulance service. When The Gazette’s Erin Jordan sought information through an open records request, the hospital responded with a redacted document hiding several key details, including how much the AirCare contractor, Air Methods, has paid the hospital system.
So a public hospital facing a $7 million deficit won’t allow Iowans to see whether the outsourcing contract it quietly entered into four years ago is a good deal. UIHC is siding instead with a company that’s facing lawsuits in several states over allegations of price gouging. Air Methods is going to court to keep the contract information private, insisting it’s a “trade secret.”
UIHC needs to reverse course and provide details of its contract. A public hospital has no business hiding important financial information from the public, simply because it’s outsourced functions to a private entity. And with a legal cloud looming over Air Methods, the refusal to provide information itself raises questions that can only be answered through transparency.
And this is part of a troubling pattern.
Last fall, the University of Iowa redacted most of the contents of its contract with Deloitte Consulting, another document requested by The Gazette. UI officials refused to disclose numerous key details regarding how much it paid the company to make suggestions for better managing the University of Iowa Health Care system. Again, the university sided with the contractor’s concerns over disclosing trade secrets.
In 2014, UIHC declined to release its contract with food vendor Sysco, also citing trade secrets.
In January of this year, a firm applying to manufacture medical marijuana in Iowa went to court to keep its state application confidential, again citing the need to protect its trade secrets.
As an expanding array of public services are handled by private companies, every Iowan should be uneasy with the notion that legally thin arguments for protecting trade secrets will override the public’s right to know how its government operates and spends our tax dollars. Iowa’s privatized Medicaid system alone spends billions of taxpayer dollars through contracts with private managed-care firms.
Hiding important public records behind an opaque wall of redactions is unacceptable, and flies in the face of Iowa’s strong tradition of government openness.
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University officials and other public officials should do the right thing and end this secrecy. And if they refuse to do so, state lawmakers should step in to compel transparency, or tighten Iowa’s open records law to make it more difficult to use trade secrets as a tool to shut Iowans out.
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