Tomorrow (Aug. 15) is the last day for 24 employees of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) but the bad news doesn’t end there, LouisianaVoice has learned.
Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols’ glowing guest column about the condition of OGB in Jeremy Alford’s Louisiana Politics notwithstanding, some 230,000 state employees, retirees and their dependents are in for some serious sticker shock.
Even as Nichols babbled on about providing “better service and care to its members” while at the same time employing the by now tired and time-worn Jindal tactic of blaming everyone but Jindal for rising health care costs, the Legislative Fiscal Office was dropping a bombshell in announcing dramatic increases in health care insurance premiums for state employees coupled with benefits that will be undergoing deep cuts.
Blaming the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and an aging population for rising health care costs, Nichols said “financially responsible practices” are necessary to continue providing benefits. She conveniently neglected to mention that it was the Jindal administration’s decision a year ago to lower premiums as a means of lowering the state’s 75 percent match, thereby freeing up money to plug gaping holes in Jindal’s makeshift budget.
That move, of course, help decimate OGB’s reserve fund. What started out as a $540 million surplus a year ago now stands at less than half that.
“At first glance it may seem like having a fund that large is a great thing,” she wrote. “But in reality, keeping hundreds of millions unnecessarily locked up in a reserve fund was not the best use of taxpayer money.
“Considering that the state funds 75 percent of member premiums through taxpayer dollars, letting that large of a balance sit unused meant that those funds weren’t being used for other important projects,” she said.
Nichols, of course, overlooks the fact that successful insurance companies keep health reserve funds in cases of a natural disaster or major epidemic. Companies who only manage to pay claims out of premiums on the other hand, traditionally don’t survive.
Her entire 800-word piece never once mentioned that state employees and retirees would soon be asked to pay significantly higher premiums for equally significantly reduced benefits. Instead, she parsed words, saying, “Plan changes for fiscal year 2015 are estimated to lower expected claims costs by $131.8 million…”
That sounds pretty good until you read the first page of the nine-page report released Monday by Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter and Legislative Fiscal Office Section Director J. Travis McIlwain.
State employee health plan changes, according to the report, include, among other things:
- 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.
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.
Of course, the revamp of OGB premiums and benefits was the result of the infamous Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) study.
The really amazing thing about that is Jindal rushed into the OGB privatization convinced he could do no wrong and that his was the only way and that the state was going to save millions. Yet, when things started going south, he calls in the big A&M guns.
Not only that, he forked over $199,752 to A&M to learn the best way to screw state employees.
Speaking of A&M, the contract with the firm was originally for a little more than $4.2 million but was promptly amended by $794,678, bumping the amount up to a cool $5 million. The problem with that is state law allows only a one-time contract amendment of no more than 10 percent without legislative concurrence. The amendment was for 18.9 percent.
As if that were not egregious enough, the Division of Administration subsequently amended the contract by yet another $2.4 million in May—again without bothering to obtain the legally mandated concurrence from the legislature.
Nothing, it seems, is beneath this administration.
Well, don’t say you weren’t warned. LouisianaVoice said before the OGB privatization ever took place that it would be necessary to raise premiums or lower benefits.
But Jindal, wunderkind that he is, insisted his privatization plan, ripped straight from the pages of the handbook of his only private sector employer, McKinsey & Co., would be more cost efficient than having those lazy state workers process claims and that the state would save money.
And lest you forget, McKinsey advised AT&T in 1980 there was no future in cell phones.
And of course, McKinsey developed the flawless business plan for Enron.
To a degree Jindal is correct; the state will now save money—on the backs of state employees.
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 $16M 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.”
Bingo! And right on cue, Carpenter’s report echoed Edwards:
“The health plan and prescription drug plan policy changes…will shift more of the costs from the state to the OGB plan member,” it said.
That shift will save the state a minimum of $44.7 million for health plan changes and at least $69 million for prescription drug plan changes in fiscal year 2015, the report said.
“Along with premiums, the major costs incurred for medical services by an OGB plan member will be deductibles, co-payments and coinsurance,” it said. “The new health plan offerings will significantly reduce the cost to OGB, while the OGB members pay more for their medical services.”
Of the total OGB population, 75 percent are currently enrolled in the HMO plan which presently has no deductible for the employee but those members will, effective January 1, be subject to both a deductible and coinsurance whereas most are currently subject only to fixed co-pays.