State Government

Hoffer: Supreme Court ruling a “dark day” for Vermont taxpayers

Ruling hides One Care spending from public scrutiny, state auditor says

by Doug Hoffer

The Vermont Supreme Court Court’s decision in Hoffer Vs. OneCare cloaks the use of hundreds of millions of Vermont taxpayer dollars in secrecy, allowing Vermont state agencies to protect themselves and their contractors from independent performance and spending oversight.

Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer

Two years ago, my office requested some documents from OneCare Vermont, the state’s only Accountable Care Organization. For context, OneCare was accountable at that time for $1.2 billion in State, Federal and insurer payments to Vermont hospitals and providers. Our request was for payroll records so we could better understand two elements concerning their use of state funds. First, OneCare had provided state regulators with conflicting information about the salaries they were paying staff. We wanted to understand why. Second, OneCare requested an alarming 33% increase in total salary costs in just one year. Vermont taxpayers pay a large portion of those salaries through OneCare’s contract with the Department of Vermont Health Access (DVHA) and we wanted to know why they sought such a large increase.

As State Auditor, my job is to make sure that Vermont tax dollars are not wasted and that government-funded programs are performing as intended and at the level Vermonters deserve. My office has made similar requests of state contractors like OneCare many times over the years. Never before had we been rebuffed. Despite assurances that we would not disclose any personally identifiable information, OneCare argued that my office simply did not have the right to access their records. This despite two explicit provisions in OneCare’s contract with the state. The first appears in standard contract Attachment A, Specifications of Work to be Performed.

“Authorized representatives or agents of State of Vermont and the federal government shall have access to Contractor’s accounting records and the accounting records of its subcontractors upon reasonable notice and at reasonable times during the performance and/or retention period of the Contract for purposes of review, analysis, inspection, audit and/or reproduction.” [1]

The second is the audit provision that appears in contract Attachment C, a clause contained in all State contracts.

Records Available for Audit: The Party shall maintain all records pertaining to performance under this agreement… The records described shall be made available at reasonable times during the period of the Agreement and for three years thereafter or for any period required by law for inspection by any authorized representatives of the State or Federal Government.” [2]

There is no real ambiguity here. The language authorizing the State Auditor to access records has never been in doubt before the Supreme Court’s ruling today. In their opinion, they write that my office is not explicitly listed as an “authorized representative” of the State, and therefore this standard contract provision (which every one of the hundreds of state contracts includes) does not apply to the State Auditor. Well, if access to records was restricted only to those explicitly listed than no entity would qualify because none are listed in that critical contract language. And if not the State Auditor, who?

The Supreme Court also argues that if anyone does have the right to access such records it would be the state agency who contracted with the outside party. But what if that agency would prefer certain facts not come to light? What if the agency is worried about how they themselves would be viewed if the Auditor’s Office accessed certain contractual records? Should DVHA (or any other state agency) be able to thwart the work of the State Auditor this way? If so, it is a betrayal of any sense of true government accountability and will encourage the outsourcing of state tax dollars to shield performance from independent scrutiny.

The whole point of an independently elected State Auditor is to hold state agencies accountable. We cannot do that if we need to seek permission from those we wish to evaluate. Those with something to hide will effectively be unpoliceable. 

This is truly a dark day for Vermonters, since the sun will no longer shine on the use of hundreds of millions of dollars of your tax dollars.

I look forward to working with advocates of government accountability and transparency to find a remedy to today’s regressive ruling.

The author is the Vermont State Auditor.

Categories: State Government

12 replies »

  1. Doug Hoffer, thank you for exposing the corruption of our state Supreme Court, One Care, and the Department of “Health Access” – one of many agencies that employ unelected officials for the purposes of control. Independence Day is merely a fireworks show when vigilance is lacking among We the People.

  2. The slow march has arrived, with their high priests in high places, trampling the laws.

  3. Maybe its just me, but doesn’t this mess seems similar to a plethora of difficulties about the way our government functions? We’ve just celebrated our invention the idea that we can govern ourselves. But we’ve developed a cultural convention whereby we relinquished our responsibilities for this to an array of government entities. We have them “pursue our happiness” for us and pay for it at such a rate that we’ve created the largest workforce in the state. The complexity befuddles us. Maybe it’s just too complex to fix. Is it occurring to others that resisting the confiscation of our funds to support this dysfunctional edifice is likely to be our best tactic? Tax revolt? …like at our founding? If it’s not working, stop paying for it?

  4. It is clear that the final contract form between OneCare and the State was emasculated. For one thing, the DVHA official State Program Manager (DVHA Programs and Operations Auditor) is designated to be solely responsible for the review of the invoices submitted by the Contractor. But there is, in my opinion, sufficient language in the contract documents that allow Auditor Hoffer to complete the requested audit process.

    Nonetheless, I’m suspect of Auditor Hoffer’s perfunctory protestations. This issue smacks of a proverbial CYB process (cover your butt, i.e., cover everyone’s butt). The Auditor is on record for making an attempt to fulfill his obligation by requesting the data. The Courts have denied the Auditor standing (the proverbial legal technicality). The Auditor has complained publicly ‘for the record’ – while doing nothing to revise and conform his request. And this is the last we, the taxpayers, will hear about this.

    I’d like to know who the State Program Manager (DVHA Programs and Operations Auditor) for this contract is. Apparently, the position is currently unoccupied. Go figure.

  5. My take on this, is that our State Government, prefers that there is no transparency and thus no accountability. This is negligence on the part of the Court.

  6. The bottom line is that big government only works for those who are part of the big government like this guy. Is he running for something because it’s parade season like leaf season when they all come out in all their glory!

  7. so now what Mr Hoffer? I can’t imagine I would just lay down on this……you work for us (we the people) and we want to know what you asked for…….go get it!!

  8. umm, I replied but do not see it, could be I didnt hit post!! so Ill say it again. You Work for us Mr Hoffer, and we want the information you requested, which you have every right to ask for according to the posted contents of the agreement. Go get it…….you can’t just lay down on this one…….

  9. October 11, 2021: “The University of Vermont Health Network announced that it would become the sole owner of OneCare Vermont, the state’s only Accountable Care Organization. From its inception in 2012, OCV has been owned jointly by the University of Vermont Health Network and the Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system in nearby New Hampshire.”

    October 3, 2021:

    February 1, 2021: Brattleboro Reformer: The State of Vermont has finalized an agreement with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont to add about 13,300 employees covered under the state health plan to the state’s all-payer model program OneCare Vermont.

    November 29, 2019: WCAX: Whistleblower accuses OneCare Vermont, UVM Medical Center of fraud – “…but when allegations of fraud surround organizations like OneCare, state leaders say it’s nothing to take lightly. Gov. Phil Scott weighed in on the complaint calling for transparency.

    “OneCare needs the public’s support. OneCare, as well, needs to make sure they’re being transparent and showing what they’re doing,” said Scott, R-Vermont. “I think it’s important on both sides to reinstill the faith and trust in some of these entities.”

    Why do I keep saying Vermont is a cesspool of corruption?

  10. It is not complicated. Vt’s health care costs have risen faster than inflation for decades. They are way out of line with the rest of the economy. Our elected officials , regulators, insurance providers, and most importantly the Vermont people have allowed this to happen. Itis time to say “NO” to outrageous health care costs. Whether you know it or not Vermont’s health Care system is on the verge of collapse. We must all care where our health care dollars are going and it is not to healthcare. We cannot trust those in control to fix this for us. They have failed.

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