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Archive for the ‘Governor’s Office’ Category

Remember the angst over the temporary shutdown of the Louisiana Department of Education’s (LDOE) web page a little over a week ago because the Division of Administration (D)A) had neglected to pay the $280 bill for the domain subscription?

It was a “technical glitch,” we were assured by DOA Director of Communications Meghan Parrish. “This was not purposeful,” she said, and not part of the ongoing Common Core catfight between those two behemoths of machoism, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Superintendent of Education—“Dude, you are my recharger”—John White.

Well, we were prepared to give the administration the benefit of the doubt that it was simply an oversight and not, as White claimed, because of the state’s refusal to make payments. We are, after all, reasonable and we understand that sometimes things slip through the cracks—even as Jindal was careful to take the necessary steps to strip LDOE and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from employing legal counsel to sue the governor.

Never mind that the governor has now moved forward with his own lawsuit against the federal government over Common Core. Apparently, while he doesn’t want to be a defendant over Common Core, he has no problem being a plaintiff and thereby further enriching his own legal counsel Jimmy Faircloth with at least $300,000 more of your taxpayer dollars in addition to more than a $1 million he has already been paid in other lost causes as, in the words of Bob Mann on last Friday’s Jim Engster Show, “the most successful loser” in Louisiana legal circles. http://wrkf.org/post/friday-bob-mann-carley-mccord (move your curser to the 19:40 minute of the show for the quote.)

But now LouisianaVoice has learned of a much more serious situation involving non-payment of electric and natural gas utilities at the Bridge City Youth Center a couple of months back.

Also surfacing are reports that despite assurances of Commissioner of Administration Kristy Kreme Nichols to the contrary, the administration and its $7.5 million hired gun Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) aren’t nearly as concerned about the welfare of 230,000 enrollees in the state’s Group Benefits program as they would have you believe.

A&M was initially hired for $4.2 million but the contract has been illegally amended—does this administration give a damn about the State Constitution?—at least twice in violation of the 10 percent maximum over which legislative concurrence is required (though neither Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, nor House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, seems to possess sufficient spinal makeup to hold the governor accountable on that little technicality).

A&M, probably best described as McKinsey Lite, is charged with trying to find $500 million—an updated number by the Baton Rouge Advocate puts the amount at $1 billion—in savings over five years. Its consultants have swooped into state agencies with their iPads and Smartphones and their instant expertise.

The problem is that neither A&M nor its army of consultants has ever run a business; they have never run a state agency; they have never interacted with the very people whose lives they are consulting to impact in a very adverse way. Yet incredibly, with all that proficiency and foolproof know-how gleaned from literally days and even a week or two of studying theoretical scenarios for each agency visited, the most consistent solution to cost cutting is: “Lay off personnel, reduce your workforce.”

A&M does have one thing that is critical to its mission: the full blessings of Bobby Jindal and that apparently is all that matters. The human element is not a factor in this pathetic exercise. That’s because Jindal himself is not human; he’s a droid, devoid of compassion or feelings and programmed to spew statistics and factoids at such a rapid pace as to trick the listener into mistaking rote recitation for intelligence.

And if he believes he can fool the national media the way he has the Louisiana media, we can assure him that task will keep him busier than a one-legged tap dancer. He will have greater success shoveling water with a pitchfork.

But we digress. Because A&M is banking on motion being interpreted as progress, it has come in and created a lot of dust, wind and noise, but little substance. Conflicts were inevitable and shouting matches have erupted in various agencies between professionals who know their jobs and pseudo-professionals who are deep on theory but short on practicality. Or who, in the words of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards in her characterization of George W. Bush, are “all hat and no cattle.”

Faced with protests by agency heads over the impossibility of meeting payroll after A&M imposed cuts, the A&M suits invariably offered the same adolescent solution of firing workers.

And for that we’re paying $7.5 million?

And now those 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents covered by the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) are facing what Kristy Kreme Nichols calls the “right-sizing of benefits to costs.” http://theadvocate.com/home/10132562-171/state-employee-insurance-changing Translated, that simply means an average 47 percent increase, including higher premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, including 100 percent higher co-pays and new and higher deductibles. Let’s not forget, most state employees will get their first pay increase in 5-6 years – 4 percent – just in time to meet those higher insurance expenses. Interesting timing.

One of our readers correctly pointed out that Naomi Kline, in her book The Shock Doctrine, lays out the game plan now being followed to the letter by Jindal and his $7.5 million consulting firm. It should come as no surprise that the A&M suits are smugly referring to the upcoming Oct. 1-Oct. 31 open enrollment as “War Games.”

War Games? Yes, War Games. To them, it’s just a way of keeping score with the fate of state employees, retirees and dependents as only an asterisk, an afterthought.

That is, after all, what this administration is all about: Jindal and his boot lickers against state workers; Republicans against the middle class. And if you don’t believe it is true class warfare, we invite you to read another book by Hedrick Smith, Who Stole the American Dream?

Smith includes in the appendix of his book the August 1971 Lewis Powell memo to the chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that set in motion the creation of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Cato Institute, and Americans for Prosperity and the eventual steamrolling of the American middle class by Corporate America. Barely three months after writing that blueprint for the consolidation of corporate America’s power over our government, Richard Nixon appointed Powell to the U.S. Supreme Court. http://reclaimdemocracy.org/powell_memo_lewis/

Meanwhile, there’s the matter of that unpaid utility bill at the Bridge City Youth Center.

The Bridge City Youth Center houses about 150 troubled youth, down from about 300 in 2002.

Since 2008 when Jindal took office, the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) has had its budget slashed by over 50 percent, and a couple of months ago, representatives from electric and natural gas utility companies showed up at the door of the Bridge City Youth Center with an order to cut services because of unpaid bills.

The amount owed? $50,000. A small partial payment was made to prevent the utilities cutoff—for now.

Granted, these 150 kids may not be up for their Merit Badges but the state in its wisdom has taken over responsibility for their housing, feeding, clothing, education and hopefully, some degree of rehabilitation.

So if the state is going to accept those responsibilities, it’s only fair to ask that the state meet those same responsibilities and pay the bills.

OJJ’s business functions were “consolidated” with DPS some time ago, and now those responsibilities have been transferred to DOA, DOA is responsible for those non-payments.

That’s the same DOA that forgot to pay LDOE’s web page subscription.

And that’s the same DOA that is an extension of the governor’s office. That’s why it’s called the Division of Administration.

Why did DOA not pay the bill? For that answer, we would have to go back to that huge budget cut imposed by one Bobby Jindal. The money simply is not there.

And it almost wasn’t there for OJJ and other agencies to meet payroll recently but A&M had a ready answer for that knotty little problem: impose layoffs.

And thrown into the mix, doesn’t is somehow seem a bit curious how this administration, which can’t lay its hands on sufficient cash to pay a $50,000 utility bill, can somehow find $18 million for a private hospital in Baton Rouge to keep its emergency room open to handle the indigent patients coming over from the state-run Earl K. Long Hospital after it was closed by the governor? Is it even legal for the state to fund a private business at all, much less without legislation? In a cash-strapped administration, where did $18 million magically and immediately appear from? http://theadvocate.com/news/10108601-123/br-general-jindal-administration-reach We’re just sayin’…

And keep in mind, the state has already had to borrow $24 million from this fiscal year’s (2014-15) budget to balance last year’s budget, meaning we’ve already started the new fiscal year, which began on July 1, $24 million in the hole.

And yet he found $18 million for a private hospital to keep its ER open for one year.

The question now must be asked: What happens next year when it threatens to close again?

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Things appear to be heating up on the issue of the behavior of the upper tier of the Louisiana State Police, though the rank and file (and retired officers) appears for the most part to support our efforts to peel back the veneer to expose widespread abuse by those in charge.

For openers, State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s Chief of Staff Charles Dupuy, the number-two man at State Police headquarters, has reportedly taken to name-calling as a result of revelations by LouisianaVoice and fellow blogger C.B. Forgotston.

Names like “idiots” and “a—holes” have apparently found their way into the discourse whenever Dupuy mentions us, according to a post by Forgotston. Those pet names reportedly accompanied his curious claim that the notorious Edmonson Amendment was constitutional—despite assurances to the contrary by the Florida attorney, a pension authority, brought in to examine the amendment by the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS).

It has been our experience that when we are able to invoke such colorful language it is usually because we’ve made someone extremely uncomfortable. And we would guess that knocking someone out of an additional $55,000 per year on his retirement income would make just about anyone uncomfortable. And calling attention to a questionable retire/re-hire in which the proponent gets to keep nearly $60,000 in unwarranted payouts could make one uncomfortable as could reporting the hiring of a South Carolina consultant as a state employee and paying her $437,000 over 28 months, plus another $13,000 in airfare to shuttle her back and forth between Baton Rouge and Columbia, S.C.

Dupuy is a member of the LSPRS board which will be discussing the amendment at the Sept. 4 board meeting.

We would strongly suggest that because it was he who pushed the amendment in the first place—not to mention his prejudicial comments about the messengers—he would be precluded from participation in next week’s board meeting called to discuss options regarding the amendment. His actions—and his comments—make it abundantly obvious that his mindset does not lend itself to an impartial and dispassionate discussion or vote on a course of action for the board.

State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) has even weighed in on the controversy, though his comments are somewhat puzzling considering that he is a candidate for the 6th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy who is trying to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.

Claitor, it seems, has been actively posting jokes on his Twitter account about our concerns over the Edmonson Amendment. It’s certainly nice to know that someone seeking elective office is so willing find humor in legitimate concerns over shady legislative practices—particularly when those practices originated in the State Senate where he currently serves. You may wish to ask him about that next time he solicits your vote.

Matthew L. Issman of Madisonville, a former state trooper and federal law enforcement officer who presently serves as police chief for LSU-Alexandria, has weighed in on the controversy surrounding Senate Bill 294, signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal as Act 859, the bill that was amended in conference committee by State Sen. Neil Riser to give Edmonson that generous retirement boost.

Contacted by the office of Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington), Issman wrote that his biggest concern with the advice received by LSPRS from that Florida attorney “is that the advice of ‘do nothing, and wait’ until someone files for the benefits and then refuse to pay, is that it will force a state board or agency to pick and choose which laws it likes or doesn’t like and which laws it will and won’t enforce.”

Schroder’s office had asked Issman to provide his rationale for litigating versus legislative repeal of the amendment.

Issman pointed out that once the governor signs the bill, it becomes law and until it is repealed or a court finds it unconstitutional, “it sets a very, very bad precedent for any agency or board to arbitrarily not comply with a state law.”

As a law enforcement officer, he said he “cannot pick and choose which laws I will enforce and which ones I will ignore. You cannot do that. It must be litigated now and a court must find it unconstitutional, otherwise other state employees who made an irrevocable DROP elect can file federal ‘equal rights’ suits against the state for the same equal status (as Edmonson). This has to be fixed now by litigation to have a court find it unconstitutional,” he said.

As a follow up to that message, Issman also sent an email to members of the LSPRS Board.

“Civics 101 tells me that you (LSPRS) are a state board in the executive branch. You carry out the laws passed by the legislative branch. The advice of your Florida counsel is in a vacuum specific to the retirement board issue of the law passed and signed by the governor (executive). I believe you are about to set a very poor precedent and are outside your charter, authority and the state constitution when you as a board decide that you have the options to pick and choose which laws you will enforce, agree with and like, and which ones you arbitrarily choose to ignore.

“You do not have the ability or authority. Hence, your options are to follow the law signed by the executive and passed by the legislative branch, or request the judicial branch review the law for constitutionality.

“I am not a constitutional scholar; however, 41-plus years in state, local, parish and federal government law enforcement have taught me the authorities and responsibilities of governmental agencies and branches.

“I am requesting you follow the law, your charter and state constitution and challenge this law through litigation in court,” he said.

Issman also is protesting the 15-speaker, two-minute limit per speaker being imposed by the board at its Sept. 4 meeting.

“I don’t believe that this meets the requirements, spirit or intent of the Open Meeting Law, nor is it enough time to hear the many concerns of the retirees you represent, unless the goal is to restrict and limit such comments,” he said in an email to board members. “I think limiting comment to 30 minutes regarding an issue that has engendered such interest and controversy is insulting to the interests of the retirees and citizens you purport to represent on this Board.

“Therefore, I am requesting that the public comment time be reasonably increased proportionately to the larger public attendance that you are anticipating.”

Meanwhile, State Treasurer John Kennedy, who, like Dupuy, is a member of the LSPRS Board, continues pressing for information about the circumstances surrounding the last minute legislative passage of Edmonson’s pension boost.

Kennedy also requested key players in the benefit becoming law appear at the Sept. 4 board meeting, including Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive counsel Thomas Enright, who approved the legislation for the governor’s signature.

The law that created the enhancement for Edmonson and another veteran trooper was tacked on to legislation that had nothing to do with retirement benefits. And attorneys for the pension board recently concluded the action violated the constitution because, among other issues, proper notice was not given that the change would be proposed and the pension provision was added to legislation that had nothing to do with retirement law.

Kennedy said he wanted to know Enright’s opinion.

Kennedy’s requests came in a letter to the retirement board’s executive director Irwin Felps and board chairman Frank Besson, president of the Louisiana State Troopers Association.

We can’t speak for any of the others involved in this back door deal, but we are willing to give odds that Kennedy will not be able to convince anyone from the governor’s office to attend that meeting. Nor will Riser dare make an appearance.

Those kinds of people never do their work out in the open for everyone to see and we feel safe in predicting they will continue to avoid the glare of public accountability.

 

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Back in the spring of 2011, LouisianaVoice predicted that higher premiums and reduced benefits would by the immediate by-product of privatization of the Office of Group Benefits Preferred Provider Organization (PPO).

The administration initially—but only temporarily—proved us wrong by reducing premiums as the lead-in to contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana as the third party administrator for the PPO.

If we wished to be vain about that move, we could have said that Gov. Bobby Jindal made that move just to prove us wrong. But it wasn’t nearly as simple as that; there was, in fact, a far more sinister reason for the premium reduction.

Because the state pays 75 percent of state employees’ premiums, cutting those premiums reduced the financial obligation to the state, thus allowing Jindal to divert money that normally would have gone to health care for some 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents to instead be used to plug gaping holes in what has become an annual budget shortfall, thanks to slipshod management of state finances by the governor.

The recent developments pertaining to impending radical changes that will force eligible retirees onto Medicare and out of Group Benefits are not about who is right and who is wrong; it’s about people. It’s about people like you and me (yes, I’m a state retiree who is one of the lucky ones who is eligible for Medicare by virtue of my hire date after April 1, 1986 and by virtue of some 25 years of newspaper reporting work in the private sector).

In all the rhetoric coming out of the office of Kristy Nichols, the people she and her boss serve appear to be the forgotten element as Jindal has become a 100 percent absentee governor while he chases the impossible dream of becoming POTUS.

FAQs

Tragically, retirees with no private sector experience and who began with the state prior to April 1, 1986, are ineligible for Medicare and the steep premium increases looming on the near horizon—open enrollment is Oct. 1 through Oct. 31—can mean only one thing for them: financial devastation. A new premium increase to go with the one that took place on July 1 is scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, placing an additional financial burden on enrollees.

Of course, if you look back, you will see how the administration fed us a string of outright lies in 2011. Thanks to loyal reader Kay Prince of Ruston, we have a copy of a letter written by then-Commissioner of Administration and who later served as Jindal’s Chief of Staff until his unexpected resignation last March which can only be described as a laundry list of lies to state employees and retirees.

Read the text of Rainwater’s letter here: https://www.groupbenefits.org/portal/pls/portal30/ogbweb.get_latest_news_file?p_doc_name=4F444D324D5441344C6C4245526A51344E7A413D

If one has to wonder where this latest political assault on state employees originates, one has only to Google “ALEC Health Care Agenda” for the answer.

HHS_2013_SNPS_35_Day

ALEC, of course, is the acronym for the American Legislative Exchange Council, the non-profit political arm of the Koch brothers and the Walton Family of Wal-Mart fame. ALEC, which drafts “model bills” for its member legislators to take back home for passage, includes sweeping changes to health care benefits for public employees as one of its primary objectives.

While we don’t normally advocate political boycotts, perhaps state employees should give serious consideration to a complete boycott of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club as a response to the ALEC-inspired medical benefit cuts you are about to experience. A word or two to friends and relatives might not be a bad idea either.

For a comprehensive look at the ALEC agenda as it pertains to medical benefits, go here:

http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/Health,_Pharmaceuticals,_and_Safety_Net_Programs

Here is a list of Louisiana legislators, both present and past, who are now or once were members of ALEC. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Louisiana_ALEC_Politicians

Girod Jackson (D-Marrero), who was charged with fraud and failure to file taxes, resigned and is no longer in the legislator and it is our understanding that Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe) is no longer a member of ALEC.

And certainly, let’s not forget that until recently, BCBS was a member in good standing of ALEC and BCBS was listed as a member of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force and ponied up $10,000 for a “Director” level sponsorship of ALEC’s annual conference held in New Orleans at which Jindal received the organization’s Thomas Jefferson Award. BCBS of Louisiana paid an additional $5,000 and served as a “Trustee” level sponsor of that 2011 conference.

And ALEC continues to have its logo prominently displayed on the Louisiana Legislature’s web page. http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/OtherGovSites.aspx

Despite all the spin from Kristy Nichols, the Aug. 11 report to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget by the Legislative Fiscal Office paints a much truer picture of what’s in store for members.

Read the LFO report here: LFO_OGBReport_August_2014

Apparently, the working media also do not buy into the Kristy Kreme version of “it’s all good,” as the proposed changes are attracting the attention of Capitol reporters like Melinda Deslatte, a very capable reporter for Associated Press: http://www.shreveporttimes.com/story/news/local/louisiana/2014/08/26/health-benefit-changes-planned-state-workers/14651363/

As a barometer of just how serious the proposed changes are and the impact they will have on members, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, apparently in response to the request of State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) is apparently willing to buck Boss Jindal and call a special meeting of the House as a Committee of the Whole as reported here by the Baton Rouge Advocate’s Marsha Shuler: http://theadvocate.com/home/10100116-123/house-group-benefits-meeting-possible

Undaunted, Nichols trudges on like a good soldier. Today, state employees arrived at work to find emails, mass distributed via the state’s “Bulletin Board,” attempting to address the “incorrect” information “distributed over the last few weeks” regarding the anticipated health insurance changes.

Basically, she denied all negative information, threw up administration smoke screens, made lame excuses and (ho-hum, yawn) blaming the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which has absolutely nothing to do with the Office of Group Benefits.

While Kristy rants that premium increases will be negligible (if one can consider a 47 percent bump negligible), we would remind her it’s not about the premiums; it’s about the benefits. It’s about the co-pays. It’s about the deductibles. Kristy, you can’t ignore the elephant in the room indefinitely.

As state workers peruse Kristy’s latest missive, it is important to refer back to the aforementioned Paul Rainwater letter of April 29, 2011, to get a quick refresher as to just how capable the administration is of clouding an issue with misinformation and outright lies.

They lied then so what’s to keep them from lying now?

The fact is the Jindal administration, what’s left of it, does not nor has it ever cared about the welfare of state employees.

Jindal is joined at each hip by his former—and only—private sector employer McKinsey & Co. on one side and ALEC on the other and both have the same agenda: the destruction of working Americans in favor of ever increasing corporate profits. Together, they guide each and every step Jindal takes.

McKinsey & Co., it should be noted, is also a member of ALEC and is the same company that once consulted General Motors into bankruptcy, advised AT&T there was no future in the cell phone market and which structured the corporate plan for Enron.

These are the ones who are maneuvering to control the health care future of 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents.

Only last November, the state flirted with McKinsey & Co. for the purposes of retaining the firm to put together a Business Reengineering/Efficiencies Planning and Management Support Services proposal.

Apparently Jindal opted to go with the less expensive Alvarez & Marcel (A&M) for that contract that has grown from $4.2 million to $7.5 million for A&M to find $500 million in savings over a 10-year period.

But McKinsey did submit a 406-page proposal and a two-page cover letter to Ruth Johnson of the Division of Administration (DOA) which LouisianaVoice has obtained.

Much of McKinsey & Co.’s proposal was redacted by DOA before its release to us—including every word in the proposal dealing with health benefits.

That’s correct. Not a single word about health benefits as proposed by McKinsey was readable. Skip down to page 37 for the redacted health benefits section to see what we mean.

Read the McKinsey report here: McKinsey – State of LA Cost Proposal – Final

In case you don’t have a lot of time, here is a shorter proposal from McKinsey: McKinsey – State of LA Cost Proposal – Final

Are you sufficiently comfortable with that to sit back and trust this administration to do what’s best for you?

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“Like all of the governor’s self-created crises, the solution always seems to be to ask more of the people of our state: more money, more patience, more suspended disbelief.”

—State Rep. John Bel Edwards, commenting on the failure of Gov. Jindal’s promise of a $20 million a year savings with the privatization of the Office of Group Benefits.

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Gubernatorial candidate and Louisiana House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) has sent a request to House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) to convene a meeting of the House of Representatives in order to review controversial changes coming to the Office of Group Benefits (OGB).

Meanwhile, OGB has issued its own “fact sheet” in advance of the annual enrollment that begins Oct. 1 and closes Oct. 31 designed to defuse information released by the Legislative Fiscal Office that reflect dramatically higher premiums and slashed benefits.

FAQs

OGB’s FAQ data sheet, however, did not include developments reported by LouisianaVoice late Monday which revealed revamped coverage plans designed to force retirees out of OGB and into Medicare coverage. The problem with that strategy, of course, is anyone hired before April 1, 1986, who never worked in the private sector are not eligible for Medicare coverage.

At the same time, the Legislative and Political Director for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) has released a series of emails between her and OGB in which she experienced ongoing difficulty in obtaining answers to questions about pending changes in premiums and coverage.

Edwards’ request would allow the house to review the proposal in a forum where all members could ask questions of the Division of Administration, OGB administrators, the Legislative Fiscal Office, and offer suggestions and comments regarding plan changes that will bring an average 47% cost increase to 230,000 plan members and their families.

“The Governor has quietly used your tax dollars as a personal piggy bank, spending the $500 million fund balance of OGB to pay bills that have nothing to do with OGB or its members.” Edwards said. “But over $100million of that balance was paid in directly by the members of OGB. Now that he misspent their money, he dares to add insult to injury by asking more than a quarter million Louisiana working families to pay higher prices for less health insurance coverage.”

Commenting on the dramatic cost increases OGB member will face in the new year, Edwards said, “The likes of Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford would be proud of the Jindal Ponzi scheme that, like theirs, preys largely on retirees living on fixed incomes.”

Edwards’ letter to Kleckley cited the recent hiring of two new OGB officials at more than six figures each as well as the Alvarez and Marsal contract to find “efficiencies” inside OGB that now totals $7.5million in costs to the state. In a written statement made in conjunction with the letter Edwards asked, “Bobby Jindal, and those who stood by and watched him dismantle healthcare in our state, hold themselves out as fiscal conservatives. Since when does fiscal conservatism define the role of government as an institution that cuts services in order to pay six figures to private consultants?”

“Like all of the governor’s self-created crises, the solution always seems to be to ask more of the people of our state: more money, more patience, more suspended disbelief.” Edwards said.

“New facts have come to light since the session ended. We owe it to our constituents to examine this issue together and to offer up some bipartisan solutions to our concerns. This impacts people in every single part of the state,” said Edwards.

Edwards told LouisianaVoice he has received telephone calls from retirees who were crying over joint efforts by OGB and Blue Cross/Blue Shield to revamp programs that could make coverage for retirees cost prohibitive.

Here is his letter to Kleckley: http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/johnbelforlouisiana/mailings/120/attachments/original/JBEtoKleckley.pdf?1409081088

“This is going to destroy families,” he said, “and we owe it to our constituents to do what we can to keep them whole.”

Mary-Patricia Wray, legislative and political director for the LFT, said she had talked with OGB Executive Director Susan West “after much prodding about why I couldn’t get answers about the plans from anyone else” after a July 30 meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.

She said that while OGB has provided a preview of the agency’s plan booklet and dates for informational meetings to other groups, “they have provided LFT with none of this information.

“While we represent 21,000 teachers and school employees, many of whom are active members of OGB, the ones who will have no option on the exchange, but will only be able to pick from the new more costly plans, OGB has refused to assist us in directing our members to the appropriate resources to help them select a plan.

“This is even amidst the layoffs at OGB that have left them, in our opinion, unable to properly service the members of the plan.

“We have no problem with assisting our members,” she said. “However, we do have a problem with being denied the tools needed to do that well—for no apparent reason.”

She said West “asked me specifically to call with questions so that I can deliver accurate information to active members or OGB. If she has time to deal with our organizations questions and concerns personally, presumably as the busiest person on staff, I am left to believe the I willful rejection of our inclusion in important meetings about plan details and member communications is simply retribution for our testimony at Joint Budget, since up to that time there was no I indication whatsoever that our attempts to be a team player and deliver accurate info to teachers a school employees was in any way burdensome to the staff of OGB.

“This is an incredibly disappointing communication—one that unfortunately aligns largely with the direction in which policy makers have taken OGB—one that has cut so many staff people to occasion private contracts that it can ostensibly claim those very cuts as the self-created crisis that “requires” it to fail to do its job at all.”

 

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Remember less than two weeks ago (Aug. 14, to be precise) we wrote that members of the Louisiana Office of Group Benefits (OGB) should prepare themselves for health insurance premium sticker shock? http://louisianavoice.com/2014/08/14/nichols-pens-op-ed-on-soundness-of-ogb-even-as-legislative-fiscal-office-prepares-members-for-premium-sticker-shock/

Well, LouisianaVoice has obtained new information that indicates we weren’t entirely accurate in our portrayal of what’s in store for some 230,000 state employees, retirees and their dependents.

The reality is much worse.

Much worse indeed, particularly for state retirees.

To recap briefly, we told you in that Aug. 14 posting about the report of the Legislative Fiscal Office on pending major changes in medical coverage for state employees and retirees. Some of those anticipated changes provided in the Legislative Fiscal Officer Report, authored by Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter and Legislative Fiscal Office Section Director J. Travis McIlwain, include:

  • An increase in premiums state employees and retirees pay for health coverage;
  • Significantly increase the out-of-pocket maximum for all health plan options;
  • Increasing deductibles for all health plan options;
  • Increasing co-pays 100 percent for those proposed health plans with co-pays;
  • Increasing the out-of-pocket maximum for the prescription drug benefit by $300 from $1,200 to $1,500 per year, a 20 percent increase;
  • Requiring prior authorizations for certain medical procedures;
  • Eliminating the out-of-network benefit for some health plan options;
  • Removing all vision coverage from the health plan options.

OGB Report_July 2014 FOR JLCB

The latest premium increase of 6 percent will go into effect on Jan. 1 is on top of a 5 percent increase implemented on July 1 of this year.

State Treasurer John Kennedy, on the heels of the Legislative Fiscal Office Report, penned an op-piece in the Baton Rouge Advocate in which he advised state employees to be careful to not break a leg as the increased premiums and co-payments “could cost you a month’s pay. http://theadvocate.com/home/10028534-123/gues-column-changes-mean-problems

The changes mentioned thus far are, of course, mostly the result of that $7.2 million—and growing—consulting contract awarded to Alvarez & Marsal which was charged with sniffing out $500 million in state savings over the next five years—something Gov. Bobby Jindal apparently felt his highly-paid cabinet appointees were incapable of accomplishing.

Of course Jindal’s plan for saving $20 million a year through the privatization of OGB has been less than a smashing success as the agency has hemorrhaged red ink to the tune of $16 million more per month than it receives in premiums since the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana takeover on Jan. 1, 2013.

BCBS is paid by the state on the basis of enrollees. The initial rate beginning in January of 2013 was $23.50 per OGB member per month. Today, that rate is $24.50 and in January, it will go to $25.50 per member per month.

But now LouisianaVoice has obtained information from deep within the inner sanctum of BCBS that OGB is planning even more drastic changes. So, in effect, OGB members are about to be hit with a double whammy, or in more chic vernacular, the perform storm, designed to force retirees out of OGB coverage and into Medicare.

And OGB is completely complicit in this portentous plan.

The sweeping changes are scheduled to be mailed to employees and retirees on Sept. 15 but we have the gist of the plan now.

First of all, all current plans are going to disappear, especially the one that are geared toward retirees. The PPO, or Preferred Provider Organization plan, currently has four levels: Active, Retiree No Medicare, Retiree with Medicare and Retiree 100 (a supplemental program designed for retirees with high medical costs. This program requires a separate premium and currently is only available through the PPO plan).

Now, though, there will be only four plans and none will have levels geared toward retirees, meaning that retirees will be paying more out of pocket. This is the method by which Jindal, through OGB, plans to push retirees to drop their OGB coverage and switch to only having Medicare.

Such a move, of course, would drastically reduce the amount the state would be required to pay BCBS, thus reducing the monthly deficit currently being experienced by OGB. The premium increase next January, along with the reduced benefits would cut that deficit more as the administration grapples with the can of worms it opened by turning over the third party administrative duties to BCBS.

But even worse, state employees who never worked in the private sector prior to April 1, 1986, do not qualify for Medicare. State employees hired after that date began paying into Medicare. Moreover, state employees who never worked in the private sector do not qualify for Social Security benefits. http://www.treasury.louisiana.gov/Lists/SiteArticlesByCat/DispForm_Single.aspx?List=c023d63e%2Dac65%2D439d%2Daf97%2Dda71d8688dff&ID=101

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, try as she might, was unable to put much positive spin on OGB’s status in her recent op-ed column. http://lapolitics.com/2014/08/nichols-ogb-prepared-for-changing-world-of-health-care/

Nor was the self-serving op-ed piece by OGB board member Scott McKnight in Tuesday’s Advocate particularly reassuring. http://theadvocate.com/home/10088672-123/guest-commentary-ogb-changes-helping

(Is it just us, or do the administration and BCBS suddenly seem terribly eager to launch a media blitz to convince us against overwhelming evidence to the contrary that what they’re planning to roll out at the approaching  open enrollment is in the best interest of state employees and retirees? An even better question is do they really believe we’re stupid enough to buy into their empty promises?)

Second, and probably the most inane change is the renaming of all the plans from HMO (Health Maintenance Organization), PPO and CDHP (Consumer Directed Health Plan, formerly High Deductible Plan, changed to CDHP to make it sound more appealing) to confusing names like Magnolia Local, Pelican HRA, etc.

That tactic would appear to simply create confusion for elderly members.

But even more duplicitous is the provision that all OGB members must choose a new plan for the 2015 year during the upcoming open enrollment. If not, then they will automatically be placed in the HRA plan which is the worst of the four plans OGB will offer next year. It is a high deductible plan with have no coordination of benefits with any other coverage.

The big concern here is for members who have moved but never updated their addresses with their Human Resources departments or with OGB. If they don’t get the notices mailed out on Sept. 15 and fail to choose a plan or if they are incapacitated in nursing homes and have no family watching out for them, they will automatically be dispatched to the HRA plan.

HR officers will become responsible for retiree maintenance. Accordingly, retiree records definitely need to be updated in employees’ and retirees’ respective HR offices. But with all the closures and privatizations, many retirees and/or HR offices do not know who will have the retiree maintenance. Several other changes include dependent verification and late applications. All these changes will have to be made with an antiquated electronic enrollment system designed and maintained by the same OGB IT staff that was recently consolidated under DOA and which no longer belongs to OGB.

Further complicating matters is Jindal’s gutting of OGB staff to the point that the office now has only a handful of employees taking phone calls from members. So the administration has suggested that BCBS get its employees to handle the spillover calls.

But while OGB representatives are authorized to offer advice to members on what plans they should choose, BCBS employees are not. So, BCBS is hiring about 20 temps to take phone calls from members regarding the plan changes for 2015. These temps will, in all probability, simply refer callers back to OGB, which would appear to be a poor way to communicate with members about such important changes.

How bad is the HRA plan? Well, for openers, and deductibles will increase from modest amounts to thousands of dollars, the economic effect of which could be devastating to employees and retirees alike.

Lest anyone forget, it was Jindal who pushed the privatization of OGB, even jettisoning Tommy Teague as executive director of the agency when he didn’t jump on board the privatization train. It wasn’t enough that Teague had taken OGB from a $60 million deficit to a $520 million surplus, Jindal insisted the move, which included putting more than 150 OGB employees out of work, would save the state $20 million per year. The plan thus far has proved a complete fiscal disaster.

State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite), who is an announced candidate for governor in the 2015 election, agrees.

“The OGB fiasco is proof positive that privatization for the sake of privatization is foolish,” he said. “A reserve balance that recently exceeded $500 million is half that now and bleeding $16 million per month due to mismanagement and budget chicanery, and the ultimate price will be paid by state retirees and employees through higher premiums, higher co-pays, higher deductibles, and higher co-insurance in exchange for fewer benefits, more forced generic drugs, and more preclearance of needed treatments and other changes that make crystal clear that the OGB beneficiaries will pay more for less.”

In an effort to prevent unwanted surprises in health care coverage following the upcoming enrollment period, it is important to remember three important things:

  • All members should immediately update their addresses with their HR departments or with OGB;
  • Make certain that elderly retirees, retirees in nursing homes, etc., have updated addresses;
  • Make certain that all retirees on Medicare have sent an updated copy of their Medicare cards into OGB.

These are three things that are critical to state employees and retirees as the 2015 plans changes approach.

 

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The underhanded attempt to rip off the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSRPS) on behalf of State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson (aka “Precious”) through a shady back door amendment steered through the Legislature by State Sen. Neil Riser wasn’t the first time that the agency charged with protecting Louisiana citizens has illicitly commandeered state funds on behalf of one of its own.

And, it seems, the more deeply we venture down the rabbit hole that is the Department of Public Safety (DPS), the uglier and scarier the unfolding picture becomes.

In April of 2010, the Jindal administration, in an offer to implement across the board savings, made a one-time incentive package offer to various state agencies as a means to encourage state employees to take early retirement.

Handled properly, it appeared at the time—and still does appear—to have been an economical and compassionate way to nudge employees who wanted out but who could not afford to retire, into making the decision to walk away, thus reducing the number of state employees which in turn translated to long-term savings in salaries and benefits paid by the state.

On April 23 of that year, DPS Deputy Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux sent an email to all personnel informing them that the Department of Civil Service and the Louisiana State Police Commission had approved the retirement incentive as a “Layoff Avoidance Plan.”

In legal-speak, under the incentive eligible applicants would receive a payment of 50 percent of the savings realized by DPS for one year from the effective date of the employee’s retirement.

In simpler language, the incentive was simply 50 percent of the employee’s annual salary. If an employee making $50,000 per year, for example, was approved for the incentive, he or she would walk away with $25,000 in up-front payments, plus his or her regular retirement and the agency would save one-half of her salary from the date of retirement to the end of the fiscal year. The higher the salary, the higher the potential savings.

The program, offered to the first 20 DPS employees to sign up via an internet link on a specific date, was designed to save the state many times that amount over the long haul. If, for example, 20 employees, each making $50,000 a year, took advantage of the incentive, DPS theoretically would realize a savings of $1 million per year thereafter following the initial retirement year.

That formula, repeated in multiple agencies, could produce a savings of several million—not that much in terms of a $25 billion state budget, but a savings nonetheless.

The policy did come with one major caveat from the Department of Civil Service, however. Agencies were cautioned not to circumvent the program through the state’s obscure retire-rehire policy whereby several administrative personnel, the most notable being former Secretary of Higher Education Sally Clausen, have “retired,” only to be “rehired” a day or so later in order to reap a monetary windfall.

“We strongly recommend that agencies exercise caution in re-hiring an employee who has received a retirement incentive payment within the same budget unit until it can be clearly demonstrated that the projected savings have been realized,” the Civil Service communique said.

And, to again quote our favorite redneck playwright from Denham on Amite, Billy Wayne Shakespeare from his greatest play, Hamlet Bob, “Aye, that’s the rub.” (often misquoted as “Therein lies the rub.”)

Basically, to realize a savings under the early retirement incentive payout, an agency would have had to wait at least a year before rehiring an employee who had retired under the program.

Boudreaux, by what many in DPS feel was more than mere happenstance, managed to be the first person to sign up on the date the internet link opened up for applications.

In Boudreaux’s case, her incentive payment was based on an annual salary of about $92,000 so her incentive payment was around $46,000. In addition, she was also entitled to payment of up to 300 hours of unused annual leave which came to another $13,000 or so for a total of about $59,000 in walk-around money.

Her retirement date was April 28 but the day before, on April 27, she double encumbered herself into the classified (Civil Service) Deputy Undersecretary position because another employee was promoted into her old position on April 26.

A double incumbency is when an employee is appointed to a position that is already occupied by an incumbent, in this case, Boudreaux’s successor. Double incumbencies are mostly used for smooth succession planning initiatives when the incumbent of a position (Boudreaux, in this case) is planning to retire, according to the Louisiana Department of Civil Service.

http://www.civilservice.louisiana.gov/files/HRHandbook/JobAid/5-Double%20Incumbency.pdf

Here’s the kicker: agencies are not required to report double incumbencies to the Civil Service Department if the separation or retirement will last for fewer than 30 days. And because State Civil Service is not required to fund double incumbencies, everything is conveniently kept in-house and away from public scrutiny.

On April 30, under the little-known retire-rehire policy, Boudreaux was rehired two days after her “retirement,” but this time at the higher paying position of Undersecretary, an unclassified, or appointive position.

What’s more, though she “retired” as Deputy Undersecretary on April 28, her “retirement” was inexplicably calculated based on the higher Undersecretary position’s salary, a position she did not assume until April 30—two days after her “retirement,” sources inside DPS told LouisianaVoice.

Following her maneuver, then-Commissioner of Administration Angelé Davis apparently saw through the ruse and reportedly ordered Boudreaux to repay her incentive payment as well as the payment for her 300 hours of annual leave, according to those same DPS sources.

It was about this time, however, that Davis left Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration to take a position in the private sector. Paul Rainwater, Jindal’s former Deputy Chief of Staff, was named to succeed Davis on June 24, 2010, and the matter of Boudreaux’s payment quickly slipped through the cracks and was never repaid.

This occurred, it should be noted, at a time when state employees, including state police, (except for a few of Edmonson’s top aides, who we plan to discuss in future posts) were already into a period of five or six years of going without pay raises because of the state’s financial condition which has deteriorated in each year of Jindal’s administration.

Meanwhile, Jill Boudreaux continues in her position of Undersecretary of the Department of Public Safety at her present salary of $118,600 per year.

Now that we have shone a little light on her retire-rehire ploy, the question becomes this: Will anyone in the Jindal administration look into this matter and demand that she repay the money—with interest?

Or will the governor, who insisted as Candidate Jindal that “it is time we declare war on the incompetence and corruption” https://www.nrapvf.org/articles/20070720/nra-pvf-endorses-congressman-bobby-jindal-for-governor-of-louisiana

and that incompetence and corruption “will not be tolerated,” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15503722

and that he has “zero tolerance for wrongdoing,” http://theadvocate.com/home/5500946-125/federal-grand-jury-looks-at

continue to ignore problems at home as he racks up frequent flyer miles in quest of the presidency that is far beyond his grasp?

Governor, the ball is now in your court.

Put up or shut up.

 

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