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That hateful, smugly, self-serving Executive Order 15-8 signed by Grovernor Jindal on Tuesday could ultimately blow up in his face, although his tenure as grovernor will be long over by the time the courts get around to ruling on his license to openly discriminate against gays.

In case you’ve been living in a cave these past few months, Jindal signed the executive order this week, in effect enacting the Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act only hours after House Bill 707 by freshman Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) was rejected in a 10-2 vote by the House Civil Law Committee.

Similar bills were passed by state legislatures in Indiana and Arkansas earlier this year.

Standing beside Jindal as he made the announcement of the executive order was Johnson but that ceremony could well be as close to a victory for the bill as the two tools of Gene Mills, Tony Perkins and Grover Norquist will get.

That’s because a challenge to a previous executive order, BJ 2012-16 (that would be the 16th executive order of year 2012) was upheld by the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge back in December and last month the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to hear the matter.

Janice Clark, 19th District Court Judge in Baton Rouge had approved the state’s motion to dismiss the case brought by the Louisiana Hospital Association (LHA) and the Louisiana State Medical Society against the Department of Insurance over Jindal’s executive order. The case will now be tried on its merits in state district court as a result of the higher court’s reversal.

Though far from over, observers will be watching the LHA closely case as it unfolds so as to gauge the effect it has on the governor’s powers to issue executive orders such as the one he handed down on Tuesday relative to the so-called marriage and conscience act which opponents see as little more than an effort to legally deny services by retail establishments, schools and medical facilities to gay couples.

The decision by the First Circuit, throwing the challenge to Jindal’s 2012 executive order back into state district court could impact his latest executive decision as well—long after a new governor has moved into the Capitol’s fourth floor. https://casetext.com/case/la-hosp-assn-la-state-med-socy-v-state

That 2012 order, creating Rule 26, suspended existing laws and granted far-reaching powers to Commissioner of Insurance Jim Donelon in the wake of Hurricane Isaac in August of 2012. The order’s justification was that Donelon could “be hindered in the proper performance of his duties and responsibilities…without the authority to suspend certain statutes in the Louisiana Insurance Code and the rules and regulations that implement the Louisiana Insurance Code including, but not limited to, cancellation, nonrenewal, reinstatement, premium payment and claim filings with regard to any and all types of insurance subject to the Louisiana Insurance Code.”

Accordingly, Jindal made the suspension of rules applicable to all insurance lines, including health maintenance organizations (HMOs), health and accident insurance, as well as property and casualty lines. Read the entire Rule 26 HERE.

LHA and the State Medical Society immediately filed their joint petition seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive and declaratory relief against the Department of Insurance, challenging the constitutionality of the rule.

Along with several other specific challenges, they claimed that the state statute does not grant the governor the authority to make “substantive, affirmative law.”

But it is the challenge to the governor’s authority to make “substantive, affirmative law” that should attract the attention of opponents of this week’s executive order.

It’s not likely that a ruling will be made on the 2012 executive order and the accompanying Rule 26 before Jindal leaves office and even it a ruling does come down, it’s likely to be appealed. But should a ruling adverse to his 2012 order, especially on the point of the governor’s ability to make law, result, it would obviously bolster the courage of opponents of the latest order creating the marriage and conscience act that specifically singles out gays on religious grounds but which could conceivably be expanded to other target groups.

No matter which direction the legal winds ultimately blow, the resulting publicity will be used by Jindal to continue to project himself onto the national stage, an invitation that has thus far eluded him.

If he wins, he will crow that justice has prevailed because his policy was on the same page with God. Should he lose, obviously, the judiciary will have come under left-wing, liberal influence.

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By Monique Harden (Special to LouisianaVoice)

Before state lawmakers on the Louisiana House of Representatives Education Committee on May 7 unanimously agreed to pass House Bill 180, which would prohibit the building of a new school on a waste site, an official with the LA Department of Environmental Quality gave a full-throated defense of the department’s astounding decision to do just the opposite.

The LDEQ gave the thumbs up to a plan by the Recovery School District to build a new school on the old Clio Street/Silver City Dump in New Orleans. According to Chance McNeely, an Assistant Secretary at the LDEQ who spoke to the Education Committee, the LDEQ uses “the safest, most stringent standard,” but “didn’t find anything that pointed to a toxic landfill or dump site there.” This conclusion is absurd. Governmental records show that this dump received more than 150 tons of waste on a daily basis and operated from the late 1890s to the late 1930s. According to the technical reports prepared by environmental consulting firms working for the RSD, which the LDEQ purportedly reviewed, the site of this former waste dump remains contaminated to this day. These reports show “unacceptable levels” of toxins at the ground surface down to 15 feet below ground that exceed the risk-based standard for residential use and would “pose a risk to children occupying the site.”

It is more than eye-opening that the LDEQ would turn a blind eye to information showing the existence of the Clio Street/Silver City Dump and revealing present-day soil contamination that can harm human health. The LDEQ lacks credibility in concluding that it is safe to build a school on a waste dump.

When McNeely discouraged the idea of avoiding the health risks at the former waste dump by looking at an alternative school site he raised the ire of Representative Wesley Bishop from New Orleans.  McNeely suggested that “probably the same thing” would be found at the alternative site as was found at the former waste dump.  When Rep. Bishop asked McNeely to explain why, McNeely admitted that he was not familiar with the alternative site.  Showing his frustration with McNeely, Rep. Bishop declared, “You’re not making any sense.”

Perhaps the only “sense” driving the LDEQ’s apparent opposition to House Bill 180 is the pressure of approving the RSD’s plan to build the school on the former waste dump in order for the RSD to collect $69 million dollars from FEMA.  According to McNeely, “FEMA requires that, if you’re gonna spend that money, you gotta confirm that there’s not a contamination that would be a danger.”

 Monique Harden is an attorney and co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, a public interest law firm in New Orleans, LA.

…And for the record, we have, courtesy of Ms. Harden, the transcript of the testimony of Chance McNeely, assistant secretary, Office of Environmental Compliance, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

You may remember Chance McNeely, who moved over from the governor’s office (with a big raise) to become the DEQ Environmental Compliance Officer while simultaneously attending law school. Here are links to some of our earlier posts about Chance:

http://louisianavoice.com/2015/01/13/if-you-think-chance-mcneelys-appointment-to-head-deq-compliance-was-an-insult-just-get-a-handle-on-his-salary/

http://louisianavoice.com/2015/01/12/taking-a-chance-on-chance-or-how-i-stopped-worrying-and-learned-to-love-the-proposed-m6-open-burn-at-camp-minden/

http://louisianavoice.com/2015/01/14/environmental-compliance-head-mcneeley-once-worked-for-gop-rep-luetkemeyer-who-leads-the-way-in-science-denial/

TRANSCRIPT OF STATEMENT ON HOUSE BILL No. 180

by

CHANCE McNEELY, ASSISSTANT SECRETARY

OFFICE OF ENVIRONMENTAL COMPLIANCE

LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY

(We have attempted to edit out numbers that do not belong. If we missed any and you see numbers that look out of place, ignore them; they’re just the line numbers for the official transcript.)

Chance McNeely: “I would just say. If I may just give you a little bit of history that you guys may already be aware of, but I’ll just proceed anyway. Obviously, we had the Industrial Revolution in the last century. And all of that pre-dated any environmental regulations or laws. So in the sixties and seventies, we started environmental regulations. And so, in the time between there, we obviously had contamination that would take place in various locations. This is not unique to Louisiana. This is something that every state deals with. And so, I just, I guess my comment would be that the point of RECAP [Risk Evaluation and Corrective Action Plan] is to put sites back into commerce. And if RECAP says that it’s, if our system shows that it’s safe, we stand by that system. And I think it’s important for y’all to be aware that there are statewide implications for this bill.

Rep. Carmody: Mr. McNeely, you’re with the Department of Environmental Quality. In these situations where – again, I’m not familiar with the areas in New Orleans were talking about here – but these former sites, impacted sites, the school has then come back over at some point and built on top of them. And the [unintelligible] I was just kind of given was that the remediation plan, I guess presented, has gone through DEQ approval process to say that in order to address the concerns regarding the high standards for some of these chemicals to a depth of – whatever it was – three feet, this has to be removed. And then at that point, encapsulation on top of that should create a barrier to prevent the migration of any of these chemicals. Correct?

Chance McNeely: That’s right. I mean, it’s essentially taking three feet of dirt out, 40 putting six feet of dirt in. Well, before you put the six feet of dirt in, you put a layer – like a fabric –so if you ever dig down and hit that, you know to stop. There’ll be six feet of dirt on top of that that’s clean. And then most of the facility, you know, it’s going to be the school built on top of it. So, there’s not, I assume that there, I think there is going to be some grass area, but a lot of it’s going to be covered with the building.

Rep. Carmody: Do all of these qualify as Brownfields sites?

Chance McNeely: Ummm

Rep. Carmody: And the reason I guess I’m asking you that question is that if it’s a Brownfields site, you don’t go all the way to the bottom of that hole until you finished digging out everything you find, is it?

Chance McNeely: Right. And that’s part of RECAP, where they evaluate all the factors. For schools, it’s treated like residential standards. So this is the safest, most stringent standard for remediation that we have. And we stand by it. So does the EPA. We kind of lead the nation in RECAP. We got a great program. And so it’s, again, we do stand by our standards and say that it is safe.

Rep. Carmody: Just to clarify, you’re here for informational purposes only as a representative of the Department of Environmental Quality.

Chance McNeely: That’s correct.

Rep. Patricia Smith: Question I have for you is when you mitigate a particular site do you inform anyone who’s building there what’s there? Are they aware when they first build 60 of what is actually in the ground?

Chance McNeely: I guess the way to explain that – I’ll use the example that we’re talking about. So the Recovery School District is being funded by the feds, FEMA. FEMA requires that, if you’re gonna spend that money, you gotta confirm that there’s not a contamination that would be a danger. And so, RSD does sampling. We have oversight of that. That’s how we got involved in this is that FEMA requires RSD to make sure that the site is okay. And so that’s how the sampling got done and we got involved. Again, we have oversight. We approved all the sampling plans, everything like that. We run it through our RECAP system to determine, you know, the risks. I’ll also point out and I’ll say that, you know, the sampling that came back was consistent with urbanization throughout the, you know, 1900s. We didn’t find anything that pointed to a toxic landfill or dump site there. So, you know, we’re talking about lead. Lead is the primary thing that we found. And we all know there’s lots of sources of lead, you know, that have existed. And you’re gonna pretty much find that in a lot of urban areas.

Rep. Smith: Well, the question I have though is the school opened in 1942. I’m sure that folks knew it was a dump site at that time. 1942 standards compared to 2015 standards ought to be quite different.

Chance McNeely: They are. There were no standards back then.

Rep. Smith: There probably were no standards. You’re absolutely right. Therefore, there ought to be more stringent standards when we’re looking at something that was already there to be able to determine whether or not anything was emitted from it. You got samples. Did you go all the way down to the 15 foot level for any samples that you know of?

Chance McNeely: I believe we did. I believe we went all the way down. It’s either 12 or 15 feet, I believe.

Rep. Smith: But even if you build and you’re looking at only the three foot level, what’s to say that you cannot disturb what’s under the layer that you put in there? There’s nothing to say that. A bulldozer or something can go farther down – just like folks hit water lines, gas lines, you know, that are underground. So, what’s to say that it doesn’t go beyond that?

Chance McNeely: Again, dig down three feet. Put that fabric in. If you ever get to that point, you see it, and you know you’re supposed to stop. But, during construction, we’re talking about constructing on top of six feet of clean, new soil. And so, the reason you need six feet is out of an abundance of caution. You know, if they had any kind of pipe burst or something that it would be in that six feet of barrier without ever having to down 95 to the area that has any contamination.

Rep. Smith: I guess because of the fact that dump sites and waste sites, Brownfields, and all these are mostly in urban, African American communities. That when we begin to build that’s where we’re building. When we begin to build and looking at trying to replace schools that often times they’re not many places to go unless we look for new 100 sites outside of the urban areas where these have been located and that’s an atrocity in itself. We know that.

Chance McNeely: My response to that would be we’re on the same page. The point of a Brownfields program and RECAP is to put contaminated properties back into commerce. We don’t want to have to build schools for the children of New Orleans way 105 outside of town. We want them to be in town. And there’s contamination in town that we address through RECAP.

Rep. Wesley Bishop: Quick question for you. I am familiar with this area. I am familiar with this district. It’s in my district. And the one thing that stands, I think, as a stark testament as to why we should not be doing this is Moton School. Moton School is in my district. Reason why I know is because my mother-in-law is the principal of Moton Elementary School. And when you look at it right now, you drive in my district, that school has sat there abandoned for years for the very same concerns that we’re talking about. You put that same remediation piece in place. You remediate this particular area, it would actually make it good. The one thing no one has been able to answer for me is why in the world do we have this conversation when we talk about our kids. I can’t figure that one out. My understanding and, Representative Bouie, correct me if I’m wrong, this situation came about based upon the Booker T. Washington High School. I’m also saying also that there is a $40 million budget to erect a new Booker T. Washington High School. I understand that there are some alumni, who have some concerns as to whether or not this will slow down the process. And that’s a valid concern because we’re many years beyond Hurricane Katrina and it’s still not built. But I also understand that there is an alternative site that’s present right now that you could build this very school on right now. Only $4 million has been spent to remediate this process. So, basically you eat the $4 million. As an attorney, it makes sense to eat the $4 million. Because if you don’t and you build this school, the number of lawsuits you’re going to face based upon parents [unintelligible] sent their kids into what most folks consider to be harm’s danger would pale in comparison. Rep. Bouie, can you talk a little bit about the alternative site that’s available for the building of this school?

Rep. Bouie: [Discussion of the Derham School property as an alternative site.] 

Chance McNeely: If I may, if it’s the pleasure, if it’s determined that the site has to move, my understanding would be that, you know, FEMA would still require sampling. And I’ll just tell you they’re probably going to find the same thing they found [stops].

Rep. Bishop: But is there reason to believe that a landfill [unintelligible] at the new site? 

Chance McNeely: I’m not familiar with that site.

Rep. Bishop: You’re not making any sense. How do you get to interject that into the argument when you have no reason to believe that that’s the case?

Chance McNeely: Because what we found through sampling at the current site has nothing to do with a landfill. It has to do with is standard urbanization: lead. It’s not, we 140 didn’t find anything that said, “Oh, there was a hazardous landfill here.”

Rep. Bishop: I disagree with you totally, sir.

Chance McNeely: Ok.

Rep. Bishop: I disagree with you. I know you gotta job to do and gotta come and make this argument, but I totally disagree with what you said.

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Editor’s note: Normally, we do not make a practice of publishing letters from readers as a guest column. But in this case, we make an exception because we were struck by the manner in which this writer expressed his concern for our state. With only minor editing for punctuation, syntax, etc., we offer here an essay written by a retired state employee now living in Pointe Coupee Parish.

By Kerry Phillips (Special to LouisianaVoice)

After reading this article:  http://louisianavoice.com/2015/04/24/it-wasnt-the-best-week-for-louisiana-as-state-hit-with-triple-whammy-at-least-no-1-lsu-beat-no-2-tex-am-in-baseball/,  and this article: http://bobmannblog.com/2015/04/24/for-jindal-if-the-choice-is-tax-hikes-vs-closing-lsu-its-bye-bye-lsu/, and after watching The Ed Show on April 24 on MSNBC regarding Jindal’s religious freedom bill and how he is truly now a national joke…..and finally, after reading Bobby Jindal’s op-ed in The New York Times, and not hearing anything about any of this in the news with the exception of a small article in The Advocate on the OGB fiasco, I have to say that as much as we love this great state of Louisiana, the heritage, the diversity, the culture, the beauty this state has to offer with many aspects, we will be moving AWAY from this state as soon as we possibly can.

We are at the bottom of every list possible nationwide, and thank God this info is getting out nationwide. We are a laughing stock. And I am sad. Sad for my state. Sad for the people, the young, elderly, poor, government workers, fire fighters, teachers. Should I go on?

I was born here.  I was born in Baton Rouge and attended fantastic schools there. I went to college in this state. I worked for over 30 years as a state employee. I was so proud when I first got my voter’s registration card and I have voted in every election. I retired, thinking my state would honor the commitments they made to me throughout my career.

Sadly, it seems I was fooled.

To know that our legislators are basically bought and paid for by lobbyists and special interests groups who truly have no interest in our state that we call paradise is sad. We have always been known nationwide as a “banana republic.” Now I see why.

No one should say that our citizens move away from this state because of a lack of jobs. They now move away because of this cruel joke that has been perpetrated on us by a handful of people within the last decade. None of these people even care about this state, our education, our colleges, our government workers, our healthcare, etc. What we’re seeing is robbery and pilfering by people who only care about one agenda. And that agenda has nothing to do with the welfare of the citizens of Louisiana. Nor does it have anything to do with our hospitals, our children’s education, or the workers of this state.

So when you turn on the local news and see people with arms folded, waiting and complaining about long lines at their Motor Vehicle offices, thank yourselves. When there is no hospital emergency system available for your loved ones, thank yourselves. When LSU does not exist anymore, God forbid, thank yourselves. When you fail to register your outrage when a contract giving away our state hospitals—with 50 blank pages—only to have the deal rejected by the federal government, thank yourselves.

My family and I plan to move to a more progressive state—to a state where citizens actually live in the current year/century and do not want to take us back to 1915, a state where people want to move forward in a way that benefits all citizens, not just the few. And no, it’s not because of my legislator, who has worked to improve the economy and to help state employees where I live. It’s because I am now becoming ashamed of our state and most of our legislators who helped get us in our current predicament.

I lived in Baton Rouge until we moved to the Central/Greenwell Springs area where I lived for more than 27 years. For the past 15 years, we have lived in Pointe Coupee Parish. And while I’d absolutely hate to leave this state (and it’s an extremely hard choice for me), I do think we’ve made our decision. Our state appears to be done, over with….unless…..our legislators decided to truly quit being Jindal’s lapdog. They need to quit being afraid to buck his system because his system has ruined and bankrupted our state. They need to stop allowing him to be a dictator in this state. He is not our God.

And when religious leaders—from north Louisiana, no less—oppose his religious freedom bill, we welcome their voices. We do not live with the Old Testament laws because with Jesus, a new testament was founded. Do we really want to go back? Are we going to go against what Jesus preached? I’m not. Are we going to allow Jindal’s religious freedom bill to become the hot topic offered only to deflect attention from the real issues, the disasters of his creation: the financial issues we now face that are the direct result of his ineptness?  Come on.

I pray so very hard that all of our legislators, men and women, will grow some courage and principles and do what is right for the whole of this state. I’m not stupid, though. I know legislators get benefits that no average citizen—or state employee—can get.  But, isn’t it time for them to sit back and ask themselves, “Do I really want to sell my soul for some Saints tickets or concert tickets or a fantastic meal at some expensive restaurant? Do I want to sell my soul? Or do I want to do what the citizens of this state want?”  “Do I want to do what Jesus would do?”

Heavy, thought-provoking questions to ask, I know. But, I know what I would do.

This is going to be one of the most historic legislative sessions in this state’s history. It is going to make or break our state. And I am afraid the state is going to break. And the poor, the sick, the elderly will be the ones to suffer.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with people prospering and living a great life. What’s wrong is people prospering and living a great life on the backs of other people.

And so I have this one simple plea for our legislators: For once, do what is right for the whole of the state.  I pray in earnest for that. My friends and I pray hard that the right things will be done. I would love to live here and pass on the culture and treasures this state has to offer to my grandchildren. But, if things continue on as they have for the last decade, we will have to choose differently.

 

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Thank goodness for late-inning rallies Thursday and Friday nights by LSU’s No. 1-ranked baseball team to beat No. 2 Texas A&M 4-3  and 9-6, respectively. Otherwise, the news just keeps getting worse for Louisiana.

That’s right; we had to flip all the way back to the sports section to find anything good to write.

That’s because even as the legislature grapples with that $1.6 billion budgetary shortfall, things were becoming unraveled elsewhere as the administration was hit this week not with a double- but a triple-whammy that could end up costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars and could conceivably end up costing another LSU president his job.

We will try to take the events in chronological order.

On Tuesday, the administration received word from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services that CMS AGAIN REJECTS the administration’s Cooperative Endeavor Agreements (CEAs) in connection with the controversial state hospital privatization plan pushed by Bobby Jindal “because the state has not met its burden of documenting the allowability of its claims for Federal Financial Participation (FFP).”

The decision apparently will cost the state $190 million, according to a letter to State Medicaid Director Ruth Kennedy from Acting CMS Director Nikki Wachino.

On the heels of that letter, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols received notification from Attorney General Buddy Caldwell on Thursday that the state had been OVERPAID BY $17 MILLION in tobacco settlement money and would have to repay that amount to the tobacco companies who then will redistribute it to states that were underpaid.

And on Friday, State Treasurer John Kennedy announced that national investors had pulled out of a large portion of a major bond deal for LSU after concerns were raised on Wall Street by LSU President F. King Alexander who announced on Thursday that he was preparing paperwork for the state’s flagship university to file for financial exigency, or academic bankruptcy. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/04/lsu_academic_bankruptcy.html

Kennedy, in a Friday news release, said his office was “trying to sort out the facts,” but essentially, a $114 million bond issue that was in the works appeared to fall flat when investors pulled out on about $80 million in commitments. The bond sale was to have funded a Family Housing Complex, residence halls and a Student Health Center and also would have saved interest on existing debt. http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?ca=e9da20fd-7c07-4e6d-9d75-82afa4fb05a9&c=cdce75a0-62fb-11e3-959d-d4ae52a459cd&ch=ce38f740-62fb-11e3-95d9-d4ae52a459cd

A BloombergBusiness report said that while investors who bought the $114 million of debt sold by LSU they were not told the school was considering filing for exigency. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-23/louisiana-state-bond-buyers-greeted-by-insolvency-plan-next-day

A declaration of exigency by LSU and other colleges and universities across the state would open the way for the schools to fire tenured professors. http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-04-23/louisiana-state-to-draft-insolvency-plan-as-jindal-plans-cuts

One state official confided in LouisianaVoice that Alexander, in his attempts to underscore the severity of the financial crisis in Louisiana higher education, currently facing still more deep budgetary cuts, may have overplayed his hand in making a “premature” announcement of such magnitude.

Meanwhile, word leaked out of a Board of Regents committee meeting Friday afternoon that as many as one-half to 75 percent of Louisiana colleges and universities may be unable to meet payroll by June unless some solution is found quickly to the fiscal crisis that has spread a mood of imminent doom across state campuses. That source said he does not believe a solution will be found until the last week of the session—if then.

With a vengeful governor like Bobby Jindal, anything perceived by him to place him in a bad light is met with severe repercussions, namely teaguing, and Alexander’s pronouncements have certainly reflected poorly on the administration.

For new readers who may not be familiar with the term, teaguing refers to Jindal’s firing of Melody Teague because of her testimony before the state government streamlining committee and the similar firing of her husband, Tommy Teague, only six months later from his job as Director of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) when he failed to go along with the ill-fated privatization of that agency. Dozens of other state employees and legislators have been either fired or demoted from committee assignments by Jindal for lesser sins. LouisianaVoice learned today that Melody Teague, who was suffering from ALS, died in March. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/theadvocate/obituary.aspx?pid=174404543

For his part, Jindal, after more than seven years in office, has finally admitted there is a problem with “corporate welfare” in Louisiana, i.e. corporations that do not pay any taxes to the state.

One classic example cited by Steve Spires of the Louisiana Budget Project was Wal-Mart, which is a Delaware-based corporation. Spires, speaking at a State of (Dis)Repair conference in Hammond on Thursday, noted that Louisiana Wal-Mart stores are leased by local entities who pay exorbitant rent to the corporate parent in Delaware, a state with no state income tax, thus avoiding income tax in Louisiana while reaping the benefits of other incentives such as Enterprise Zone designation and 10-year property tax exemptions.

Jindal has only in the past couple of weeks so much as acknowledged the state has a problem with its generous tax breaks for corporations which cost the state billions of dollars per year.

Thus, as the budget crisis grows progressively worse with each passing year, Jindal has resorted to more and more sleight of hand in patching over budget holes with one-money.

Caldwell, in his letter to Nichols and Kennedy, said a number of states had been underpaid in tobacco fund settlement money by the tobacco companies because of accounting errors, and that a corresponding number, including Louisiana, had been overpaid.

Louisiana, he said, was overpaid by about $17 million which will have to be repaid so the money can be redistributed to the proper states.

The CMS rejection has been a problem for the administration since the privatization deals with several private hospitals were signed, though DHH Secretary Kathy Kleibert has attempted to see the world through rose-colored glasses, always expressing optimism that the state’s plan would be approved.

Not so.

In her three-page letter to Ruth Kennedy, Wachino said, “After careful consideration, CMS cannot accept the arguments advanced by the State in its Request for Reconsideration. While CMS recognizes the State’s efforts at corrective action, such measures do not address the State’s noncompliance for the period in question (Jan. 1, 2013 through May 23, 2014). For the reasons stated above, as well as in CMS’s Dec. 23, 2014, disallowance letter, the…disallowance is affirmed.”

All in all, the state has seen better weeks.

Go LSU! We need a sweep badly!

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One might think the Jindal administration and the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) might have learned something from the Bruce Greenstein fiasco over at the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH).

Greenstein, you will remember, was the DHH secretary when that $280 million contract was awarded by his agency to his former employer, CNSI.

That scenario could be repeated at OGB.

Even though Greenstein insisted he had established a “firewall” between himself and CNSI, it was subsequently revealed that Greenstein had hundreds of email and text message exchanges with his old bosses during the contract selection process.

That eventually led to Greenstein’s forced resignation and criminal indictment and a civil suit by CNSI the entire messy episodes are slowly making their way through the Baton Rouge District Court system.

Which brings us to OGB and its $35 million-a-year contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana (BCBS) to administer OGB’s Preferred Provider Organization—a task that apparently proved somewhat daunting to BCBS during the first year of its contract, costing the contractor more than $3.1 million in performance penalties.

One of five contracts with the state totaling $1.2 billion, that three-year contract will end on Jan. 1, and OGB is currently accepting proposals for a new three-year contract.

OGB issued its request for proposals (RFP) on March 13, giving an April 20 deadline for proposals but that deadline was extended to April 30 in an addendum issued on Wednesday (April 22). OGB RFP

LouisianaVoice, however, has learned that OGB Administrator Elise Cazes has been put in charge of the evaluation committee which will make recommendations on awarding a winner of the new contract.

The problem? Cazes was appointed Group Benefits Administrator on June 23, 2014.

Cazes was previously employed by BCBS of Louisiana, raising the possibility of a conflict of interests. http://louisianavoice.com/2014/07/26/ogb-laying-of-24-more-blow-softened-when-ceo-assures-affected-employees-losing-their-jobs-not-like-losing-a-child/

She earns $106,000 per year in her current position.

Not only does she head up the evaluation committee, but she also was given the responsibility of naming other members of the committee. To date, the name of only one other evaluation committee member, OGB Interim Deputy Director Bill Guerra, has been revealed.

At the same time, LouisianaVoice has learned that BCBS in 2013 was fined more than $3.1 million for performance deficiencies in connection with its contract with OGB. BLUE CROSS PENALTIES

BCBS was paid slightly more than $32.2 million to administer the PPO plan for calendar year 2013, the first year of its current contract.

Under terms of its contract with OGB, BCBS could be fined up to $9.7 million for failure to meet a variety of standards. Those include:

  • General Standards (10 percent of total medical administrative fees): $3.52 million;
  • Data Submission Standards: $10,000 per day, or a maximum of $20,000;
  • Mental Health & Substance Abuse (MH&SA) Standards (17.5 percent of total medical administrative fees): $6.2 million.

The actual penalties imposed for 2013, according to OGB’s own report, and the breakdown included:

  • Average speed to answer phones (39 seconds against an industry standard of less than three seconds): $352,325;
  • Claims Accuracy: $352,325
  • Membership Identification Cards Timeliness: $352,325;
  • Data Submission Timeliness: $20,000 (the maximum amount allowed);
  • MH&SA Appeals: $528,487;
  • MH&SA Ambulatory Follow-Up: $528,487;
  • MH&SA Medical Integration: $528,487;
  • MH&SA Member Satisfaction Survey Score: $528,487

TOTAL: $3.19 million.

In explaining the deficiency report, OGB noted that the contract between BCBS and OGB “contains 26 performance goals (called service level agreements, or SLAs) related to customer service and claims processing. During 2013 Blue Cross experienced challenges in meeting a handful of these goals.”

The report indicated that “all issues” had been resolved and that OGB and BCBS were “fully prepared for excellent performance during the 2014 calendar year.”

But LouisianaVoice recently received the following email from a retiree which would seem to indicate otherwise:

“Here’s a laugh; Look at the insurance health cards my wife and I received thus far:

  • Received 3/6/15:  deductible—$300
  • Received 03/09/15: insured deductible—$600
  • Received (date unknown): insured deductible—$600
  • Received 03/20/15: insured deductible—$1800
  • Received 03/20/15: spouse deductible—$600
  • Received 03/27/15: spouse deductible—$600
  • Received 03/27/15: insured deductible—$1800
  • Received 04/04/15: insured deductible—$600. 

“Do I get to pick our deductible from these cards?  You can tell that BCBSLA and OGB are on top of this matter, right? I plan to make a personal visit to the OGB office probably next week and show them this trash and find out what our deductible(s) really are. Do you think they know? I will ask while I am (at the OGB office) for the real executive director at OGB (to) please stand up.

“Our online monthly premium is a different figure from the letter received in the mail today from OGB. I am ready for someone to figure out what’s going on, and do something logically and correctly.  Health insurance is a serious matter for people and they are playing with us. Everything needs to be corrected and cleaned up for all state employees (retirees and actives).

“OGB use to be correct on these technical matters and they had in the past straightened out BCBSLA for me several times on what was to be paid, etc. Now OGB has gone crazy too! I guess it’s from all the new executives at the top.” 

 

 

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