Public Records Delayed Due To Affordable Care Act

A heavy workload caused by the Affordable Care Act, government technology limits and staff shortages are causing unusually long delays in filling public records requests, federal health officials say.

The waits in some cases could stretch out a decade or more.

The Freedom of Information Act requires federal agencies to respond to records requests in 20 working days, though providing documents often takes much longer. The FBI, for instance, recently reported that complex requests could average more than two years to fill.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has a backlog of some 3,000 FOIA requests and says it may need 10 years or more to dig out from under some large cases.

The Justice Department disclosed the bottleneck in court papers filed Friday in a FOIA lawsuit brought by the Center for Public Integrity against the Department of Health and Human Services, the parent agency of CMS.

The suit, filed in May 2014, seeks a broad array of records as part of the Center’s ongoing investigation into overcharges by private Medicare Advantage insurance plans for the elderly. The center filed suit after failing to receive any records as a result of its initial FOIA request in 2013.

In its court filing, the Justice Department argued that CMS resources “have been placed under unusual strain” in the past year due to demands of launching Obamacare.

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary