There's nothing illegal about the state releasing county-level enrollment numbers for the state's All Kids, Medicaid and other health-care programs, according to the director of a national association that advises states on data issues.
"We need to get data out into the public domain," said Denise Love, executive director of the National Association of Health Data Organizations, based in Salt Lake City.
But Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration insists Illinois would violate patients' right to privacy - and run afoul of federal law - by telling the public how many people in each county receive benefits from All Kids, FamilyCare, Medicaid and other health-care programs run by the state.
Republican lawmakers contend the Democratic governor is trying to block scrutiny of state programs.
"The more information they give, the more they have to be held accountable for," said state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington.
Blagojevich aides deny the allegation. They said anything other than statewide enrollment statistics would violate the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which took effect in 2003.
"We are following the strictest HIPAA reading," said Amy Rosenband, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
But Love said basic statistics at the county level don't identify whether specific individuals are covered by a state health program.
"I think that's the strictest reading I've heard," Love said of Illinois' interpretation. "It just doesn't make sense."
In 2005, the last year for which county-level data were available, about 37,500 children were enrolled in Medicaid and KidCare in the counties of Sangamon, Menard, Cass, Christian, Greene, Logan, Macoupin, Mason, Montgomery, Morgan and Scott. Sangamon County's total was 16,997...
Agencies that run health-care programs in Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri and Kentucky all continue to release county-level data.
"I know that we take HIPAA very seriously," said Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services.
"But posting aggregate data? I'm not sure how that would somehow violate HIPAA."
The story was posted with permission at The Association of Health Care Journalists.