By Stevie Poole
Originally published April 28, 2014
A story more than a decade in the making is a step closer to being told.
On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court refused to hear a case HealthSmart Holdings Inc. initiated, hoping to keep an audit of Lubbock’s former insurance administrator private.
“If they did decline to hear it and if it has been determined that the audit needs to be released, I’m going to be happy,” said Mayor Glen Robertson, who had not yet been briefed on the court’s decision on Monday.
The audit was part of a city controversy revolving around an “unsatisfactory” report of HealthSmart and a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into city practices.
The city’s former insurance administrator was contracted in 2003 and maintained the health insurance business for Lubbock’s 6,000 employees from 2004 until 2006 under the auspices of The Parker Group, owned by Ted Parker, now part of the umbrella health group HealthSmart.
HealthSmart’s relationship with the city of Lubbock ended in 2006 amid concerns of improper fees and commissions, though the actual amount is unknown because the audit is still sealed, despite efforts by the city and Avalanche-Journal to release the information.
The city later received a$4 million settlement, putting an end to years of litigation.
Still, questions remain unanswered.
“The city settled for $4 million, is that a good deal or was it a bad deal? we don’t know,” said Terry Greenberg, vice president of audience for the A-J, who has advocated for the information’s release from the beginning.
The A-J requested to view the audit under the Texas Public Information act, and the city would have released it if HealthSmart hadn’t objected.
“That should be released. That’s taxpayers money and taxpayers should always be able to see how their money is spent and not spent,” Robertson said.
Instead, HealthSmart sent the A-J’s request to view the audit to the office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott for an opinion.
The Attorney General agreed the information should be made public, but HealthSmart again objected.
After the Attorney General, the Travis County District Court and the Court of Appeals all favored releasing the information, the Texas Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Without a Supreme Court ruling, the lower courts’ decision stands, according to Don Richards, attorney for the Avalanche-Journal.
Still, the company may request rehearing — again tying the document up in litigation.
“HealthSmart can still ask the Supreme Court to hear it again, but it’s lost every step of the way,” Richards said. “It still may take a little bit of time for the process to run out.”
If the company files a motion for a rehearing, Richards estimates it could take about 30 days for the Supreme Court to either reverse the initial decision and hear HealthSmart’s case or again refer to the lower court’s ruling.
“Hopefully, this is the next to last step of this process,” Greenberg said.
HealthSmart did not immediately respond to A-J Media’s requests for comment.