- Jacqueline Klosek
As politicians and the public at large continue to debate the future regulation of the US healthcare system, there is one thing that is for certain – we, the people have the right to more information about how this future is being determined. We need to know more about the agencies and officials who are involved with decisions about health care. We need to know with whom they make and from whom they take advice. We need access to White House visitor logs and full disclosure of information about the meetings that our leaders have had with health care executives and others who may have commercial interests in the future regulation of US healthcare.
Access to information held by the government is an essential and fundamental part of democracy. Our right to information is enshrined in the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and equivalent state laws. However, this right is not always easily exercised. Oftentimes, people seeking information from government agencies under the FOIA will face obstacles such as delays and denials. Other times, information that is supposed to be posted online or otherwise communicated to the public will not be made available.
President Obama ran on a campaign of transparency and open government, assuring us that we would have access to more information than we had under the prior administration. While there have been a number of significant accomplishments in this regard, there have also been disappointments and setbacks. In the current debate over healthcare regulation, many would agree that the public has not been afforded enough information.
It is thus an opportune time to reacquaint ourselves with the rights we have under FOIA and similar legislation. In my recent publication, The Right to Know, I provide an overview of the FOIA and offer tips and suggestions on how journalists, activists and citizens can use these laws to obtain information held by the government. To show the important role that the FOIA has played, I also provide examples of case were the FOIA was instrumental in achieving significant revelations in key areas including environmental protection, human health and safety, civil rights, human rights, government corruption and crime. If we continue to exercise our right to know and to push for more information and transparency, we are likely to find ourselves with a government that is more accountable and effective. As President Lincoln wisely advised back in 1861, "Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe."