Local doctor questions county's health care contract

Local doctor questions county's health care contract

A judge will decide if he should be allowed to look at the reports.
A judge will decide whether the county has to cough up a series of reports on its employee health care contract.

A local doctor argues the company that was awarded that contract, has a conflict of interest that will be revealed in the reports.

But, the county argues the documents should remain confidential.

Dr. Donald Cornforth was in court Tuesday morning suing the county. His attorney argues the county is hiding documents the public should see.

"If you are going to have an open democracy then the citizenry have a right to view the documents used or created by the government in its decision-making process," said Bob Joyce, Cornforth's attorney.

But, Cornforth has more at stake. The local radiologist says he's seen a decrease in patient referrals since the county awarded its employee health care contract to Managed Care Systems.

MCS authorizes where county employees are sent for care.

But, MCS's parent company also owns Mercy and Memorial Hospitals.

Cornforth argues there's a financial incentive for MCS to steer patients to those facilities.

MCS maintains that isn't true.

"The rules of the plans allow for physicians and patients to choose their providers, and those providers are just about every provider in Kern County. So, we do not move or redirect business to other providers," said the CEO of MCS, Brent Boyd, in August 2012.

The county paid $200,000 to study the issue, but now says it won't make the study public.

Under the Constitution of the state of California, public access to public records is a guaranteed, fundamental right.

But, county lawyers have a different take. They argue the documents are confidential because they are part of labor negotiations.

The county also argues the two reports are preliminary drafts. Again, making them exempt from public disclosure.

Superior Court Commissioner Linda Etienne heard from both sides Tuesday morning and has up to 90 days to make a ruling.
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