Disability rights sues state for documents related to Medicaid director’s hiring

By: - November 16, 2022 1:50 pm

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (Photo by Matt Volz | Kaiser Health News).

A disability rights organization is challenging the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services’ decision not to release any hiring information pertaining to Mike Randol who was hired this summer as the state’s Medicaid and health services executive director.

Disability Rights Montana wanted to know how Randol was hired, his resume and interview process, something that DPHHS has twice refused, according to court documents. Randol previously oversaw Medicaid programs in Iowa and Kansas, both of which moved to privatization or “managed care” models. Montana used a managed care system in the 1990s, but reassumed Medicaid administration when that care proved worse for patients and providers.

DPHHS declined to provide any of Randol’s application materials, including resume or interview questions, saying that they were protected by the state’s constitutional right to privacy, according to the lawsuit. However, the lawsuit, filed by Niki Zupanic of Upper Seven Law, said the department failed to take into account the “balancing test” established by state courts and case law, which requires public agencies to weigh the public’s right to know against privacy interests.

“The merits of public disclosure – namely, further public oversight of multiple billions of dollars in state programs – outweigh any purpose the department’s secrecy arguably could advance,” the lawsuit said.

In short, Montana courts have ruled that officials who are in a position of power and public trust, or those who deal with significant amount of taxpayers funds, have a lessened expectation of privacy. In the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Lewis and Clark County, attorneys argue that Randol’s position is clearly one of public trust, and he oversees programs and budgets in excess of $2 billion. According to data from the U.S. Census, nearly 25 percent of Montana’s population is affected by programs that Randol oversees.

“Randol occupies a position of public trust, overseeing programs that impact the lives of particularly vulnerable Montanans, which necessarily limits any privacy interest he may have in his applications materials,” the lawsuit states. “As the constitutional text makes clear, there are occasions where individual privacy rights outweigh the public right to know. The hiring of a new Medicaid and Health Services director is no such occasion.”

The lawsuit said that the three divisions Randol oversees have a combined annual budget of $2.7 billion and full-time equivalent of more than 1,100 state employees.

Disability Rights is an advocacy organization for individuals who rely upon Medicaid and other DPHHS-administered programs to assist meeting their basic needs, including healthcare, community integration and community-based treatment.

The lawsuit also argues that it’s not just Randol’s previous work history that should be disclosed, but by releasing the documents, the public can also learn more about how Randol was selected for the position.

“Records documenting hiring processes provide the public with an essential opportunity to evaluate how officials exercise hiring judgment and performing their supervisory and management duties,” the suit said. “The requested records likely would demonstrate DPHHS officials’ efforts to select an applicant, giving the public an opportunity to review the extensiveness of the search to fill Randol’s position and criteria used to evaluate the applicants.”

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services told the Daily Montanan that it does not comment on pending litigation.

2022-11-16 - DRM complete MSJ - FILED

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.

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