Gov. Nikki Haley advocates free markets, and that includes a free market for health care. Moreover, South Carolina is one of 26 states challenging President Barack Obama's health care reform law before the Supreme Court.
So it would be a surprise if the governor were in support of health care exchanges -- a key component of that law -- as a function of either the state or federal government. Or if her appointees to a health care committee would not share that view.
But it is a disappointing surprise that the governor has failed to meet the transparency promise that was supposed to be a hallmark of her administration. The Post and Courier sought information through the Freedom of Information Act regarding the governor's committee on health care and received nothing of substance in return.
As reporter Renee Dudley wrote, the newspaper instead received "press releases, public schedules and some correspondence among staffers, but no emails from the governor." Ms. Dudley also noted that the governor wasn't available for comment Tuesday or Wednesday, as our stories were breaking. She declined to answer questions Thursday.
So where is the transparency commitment?
Fortunately, the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services ultimately provided the information that had been requested -- emails regarding the committee, its charge and the expectations of the administration. HHS is a Cabinet agency under the governor's authority.
In an email to her advisers, the governor actually opposed the notion that the committee might endorse a state health-care exchange to serve as a marketplace for various offerings to consumers.
"The whole point of this commission should be to figure out how to opt out and how to avoid a federal takeover, NOT create a state exchange," she wrote.
That statement conflicts with the stated intent of the committee, established by Gov. Haley's executive order, which was "to build trust and consensus among stakeholders," while deciding "whether or not the state should establish a health insurance exchange."
Sue Berkowitz, executive director of the Appleseed Legal Justice Center, sat in on the meetings and contends that the committee's efforts were effectively meaningless, since its recommendations were a foregone conclusion. She lamented that people were inadvertently part of a hidden agenda as they met "in good faith" to "explore every option and discuss what is in the best interests of the state."
Comments to our reporter from those who served on the 12-member committee vary as to the value of its work and the substance of the extensive discussion.
A realistic assessment was offered by Rep. David Mack, D-Charleston, who was appointed to the committee by House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston: "You could tell by the composition of that committee what the result was going to be. It was handpicked. The members are set to get a certain outcome."
But the governor has stressed that her administration would not operate according to politics as usual, and that transparency would play a central role in the way that the state's business is conducted.
The governor's behind-the-scenes work on the health care committee, and her unwillingness to make the record public as required by the state's FOIA, say otherwise. And it comes close on the heels of the governor's support of Georgia's request on the Savannah River dredging proposal -- and the quick turnaround on that plan by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control and its board.
Gov. Haley needs to recommit herself to the stated "good government" priorities of her administration.
High-flown phrases are cheap.
What really counts are deeds, not words.
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