Information laws called drag on IWIF

Open meetings, public records cause problems, official says

`Very trying to compete'

August 26, 1999|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

Officials of the state Injured Workers Insurance Fund told a task force yesterday that complying with the state public-records and open-meetings laws was creating perplexing problems for the agency, and a blanket exemption should be considered.

"It's not that we are trying to hide anything," said Paul M. Rose, IWIF's chief executive, "but there are only certain criteria under which we can close our board meetings."

Rose, who was later joined by IWIF's private attorney, David Funk, told the task force that operating in public was making it difficult for IWIF to compete with private insurance companies.

"It's very trying to compete when you have your whole plate open to competitors," said Rose. "It's perplexing. We get asked for records all the time about medical providers and claims."

He said IWIF is in litigation over a public records request. The suit was filed by The Sun.

Rose and Funk suggested that the task force recommend exempting IWIF from all provisions of the state open-meetings and public-records laws.

The comments came at the opening session of a task force created by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to look into questions raised in a series of articles about IWIF and the way it operates. The articles in The Sun focused on the awarding of a $21 million no-bid contract and the granting of pay bonuses of up to $28,400 a year to top executives, including Rose.

IWIF, created by the legislature in 1914, is run by a seven-member board appointed by the governor. It competes with private insurance companies to provide workers compensation insurance to Maryland companies. It provides coverage to some 20,000 businesses, or 20 percent of the statewide market.

Funk also told task force members the state's open-meetings and public-records laws were creating problems. A recent advisory ruling from the Maryland attorney general placed even tighter limits on the board, he said. Under the law, said Funk, there's no difference between a competitor and a newspaper reporter sitting in on IWIF board meetings.

State Budget Secretary Frederick W. Puddester asked Rose and Funk if they could give any specific instances in which competitors had gained an advantage because of public disclosures.

"I understand the inconvenience, but I would have to have some specific example," said Puddester, a task force member. "Do you have any specific instances where the company was disadvantaged or is this a solution in search of a problem?"

Funk acknowledged that they had no specific examples and that the concerns were "at this point in time theoretical."

Much of the task force meeting was taken up with an open discussion over what IWIF is and whether it should be subject to more or less state regulation and oversight.

Del. Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who chairs the House committee that oversees IWIF legislation, said he couldn't understand why the agency was not subject to review and regulation by the state insurance commissioner, like all other worker compensation carriers.

The suggestions for more regulation drew a sharp protest from state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat.

"Some of the stuff I'm hearing here is crazy," said Bromwell, who warned against taking any action that would disrupt IWIF. He said he was persuaded that IWIF was responsible for Maryland's reduced worker compensation costs.

"I would be inclined to make them as independent as we possibly can," Bromwell said.

Noting changes in the IWIF law in 1988 and 1990, Bromwell said the legislature told the agency to become a competitor in the insurance market and not to settle for being the insurer of last resort, providing coverage to companies that could not get policies from private companies.

Pub Date: 8/26/99

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