Bill Mercer, a freshman Republican legislator from Billings, wants the House Appropriations Committee to force the Department of Public Health and Human Services to hand over millions of detailed personal health records: everything from a person’s HIV status to where they last filled their prescription for an asthma inhaler.
The astonishing suggestion came amid a hearing on a bill to make DPHHS provide the information to the legislature’s in-house budget analysts. Never mind that current law already allows budget information to be transferred (or that these genius analysts were the ones that helped Republicans pass a deficit budget in 2017). No, this is a fishing expedition to try to discredit Montana’s successful Medicaid expansion program. The healthcare program that insures nearly 1 in 10 people in our state.
But when Republicans go fishing, they go fishing with dynamite. That’s why the bill, carried by fellow Republican Eric Moore, not only coughs up literally every piece of private health data for every single Medicaid expansion recipient, it also sweeps up private information from child services cases, traditional Medicaid enrollees, and anyone on any form of public assistance.
Republicans in the committee were unhappy to learn that federal law and the Montana Constitution’s right to privacy prevent the freewheeling disclosure of private health data to score political points.
They got so frustrated in fact, that Mercer suggested the committee simply subpoena the information itself. Besides the obvious HIPPA violations, Republicans want to again invade the privacy of Montanans and violate our civil liberties just so they can somehow justify taking away our healthcare. Way to go freedom lovers.
So who is Representative Bill Mercer, the legislator that wants to read your private medical history?
Mercer may be a first-time legislator, but he’s already well established in the swamp of national Republican politics. Mercer was a senior official with a front-row seat to nearly all of the Bush Justice Department’s scandals: everything from the political firing of U.S. Attorneys to the violation of civil service laws by screening to make sure government lawyers were Republican true believers. He did this while also serving as Montana’s U.S. Attorney, a role he performed in such a way that he earned a rare, open criticism from sitting federal judges.
After the Justice Department, Mercer built a new career representing corporate clients at a Billings law firm. In the past couple years he:
• Sued to stop Medicaid expansion on behalf of big tobacco (and lost);
• Sued on behalf of foreign mining companies to stop I-186 (and lost);
• Sued on behalf of a hedge fund to stop Missoulians from owning their own water (and lost);
• And sued on behalf of conservative special interests to allow public funding for religious schools (and lost).
Mercer currently represents opioid manufacturers (being sued by the State of Montana), in a case he has not yet lost but has possible basic conflicts of interest. (his employer is now the State of Montana)
Mercer has seen some victories, including successfully protecting a garbage-collection monopoly from having a competitor. Free enterprise is great unless you can pay to hire someone like Mercer.
With the legislative session still young, Mercer has already gone to work for his clients. He is sponsoring bills that could directly benefit his hedge fund client in the Missoula water case and as well as his big pharma clients getting sued by the state.
Mercer’s recent suggestion that he should get to dive into private health data was surprising because even a corporate attorney like Mercer surely knows the privacy rights protected by HIPPA. But Mercer is an enemy of healthcare and will do anything to destroy Medicaid expansion, even if that means ignoring precedent, the Montana Constitution and the basics of law.