A state-created insurance fund that covers high-risk doctors, hospitals, bars and other service providers must make its records public, a Ramsey County district judge ruled Thursday.
The Minnesota Joint Underwriting Association, which was created by the Legislature in 1976 and also called “the insurer of last resort,” sued the Star Tribune in February to prevent release of records that would reveal the number and identities of those it insures.
The newspaper reported in May that the MJUA has spent at least $32 million over the last decade to settle claims, including $12 million to resolve 169 claims filed against health care providers, some of whom were accused of crippling or killing their patients.
The MJUA has also had such significant financial problems that the state Commerce Department, which regulates insurers, took the unusual step of supervising the organization for all of 2012.
Judge Margaret Marrinan ruled that the MJUA must immediately provide the Star Tribune with the requested data, rejecting an argument the group made that it was not a public entity subject to the state’s open records laws. She said the language of the statute that created the MJUA to serve a public purpose “itself evidences the nature of the MJUA as a public entity.”
The judge also noted that a state agency that resolves public data disputes has ruled three times that the MJUA’s data is public.
A call to the MJUA’s director, Amy Gordon, was not returned. The MJUA’s attorney, Paula Vraa, also didn’t return a call seeking comment.
Because most MJUA policyholders have to prove they can’t get insurance from the private market, critics contend the MJUA keeps bad providers in business. Supporters of the group say it provides an essential protection for consumers to allow them to recover damages from providers in the case of harm or negligence.