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Archive for the ‘Health Care’ Category

A report by the Pew Research Center earlier this week indicated the wealth gap between middle- and upper-income households in America continues to widen to record levels. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-pew-wealth-gap-20141217-story.html

Congress has just acted to ensure that that record gap between rich and poor continues to grow https://www.ifebp.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=72

And if you think we down here in Louisiana are insulated and unaffected, think again.

The Pew report, drawing on the latest data from the Federal Reserve, says the median wealth for high-income families was $639,400 last year—up 7 percent from three years earlier on an inflation-adjusted basis—while the median income for Louisiana households was reported at $39,622. The figure for Louisiana represented a drop of 19.7 percent from the state’s 1999 peak year of median earnings of about $48,400. http://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/Household-Incomes-by-State.php

In 1983, the CEO-to-worker pay ratio was a shade less than 50:1. Today that difference stands at 331:1 and the CEO-to-minimum-wage-worker pay ratio is even more obscene at 774:1. http://www.aflcio.org/Corporate-Watch/Paywatch-2014

There also is this: http://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0711/5-outrageous-ceo-spending-abuses-and-perks.aspx

And yet, even as corporate CEO pay and perks continue to reach stratospheric figures that the average employee can only imagine, Congress took a step last week that could actually lead to a major financial hit for retirees.

If that mammoth spending bill passed by Congress on Dec. 11 escaped your scrutiny, perhaps you should have been paying closer attention. Included in that bill was an obscure amendment which will permit benefit cuts for retirees in one type of pension plan—multi-employer plans jointly run by unions and employers.

By definition, that would mean members of unions who work for several companies. That could conceivably include Teamsters, building trades, longshoremen and any other workers whose unions have working agreements with multiple companies. http://www.wsj.com/articles/pension-change-seen-as-setting-a-precedent-1418586647

Louis Reine, President of the Louisiana AFL-CIO, acknowledged the amendment was inserted as a means of keeping some pension plans that are on shaky footing afloat. At the same time, however, he warned that the move was a “slippery slope” and should be approved “with all due caution and deliberation.”

That’s because now that management has a foot in the heretofore impenetrable door protecting workers’ pensions, the table has been set for even more far-reaching legislation to strip away benefits in other areas, including the public sector.

Remember, it was on Jan. 25, 2012, just three years ago, that Gov. Bobby Jindal, in a speech to the Baton Rotary Club, outlined his plans to “reform the state pension system to keep the state’s promise to workers, protect critical services and save taxpayer dollars.” http://gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm?md=newsroom&tmp=detail&articleID=3220

Among those plans to “protect the state’s promise to workers” was a revamp of the state pension system that would have gutted benefits for state employees. We have often cited here the example of the worker who, if she never received another pay raise, would be eligible to retire after 30 years with a retirement of $39,000 per year. But under Jindal’s plan to “protect” her, that $39,000 would be reduced to $6,000 per year—a $33,000 per year hit—and the employee was not eligible for Social Security or Medicare.

The courts, fortunately for state employees, declared the state’s pension plan a contract which could not be arbitrarily broken by the state, though the state was left free to offer new hires a defined contribution retirement plan as opposed to the defined benefit to which the employee we cited was entitled.

The Wall Street Journal called the amendment to the federal spending bill as a “model for further cuts,” and therein lies the real threat to workers and retirees alike.

Karen Friedman, Executive Vice President of the Pension Rights Center, said the measure would “set a terrible precedent” in that it could encourage similar cutbacks in troubled state and local pension plans and maybe even Social Security and Medicare.

That is a chilling prediction and in all probability, deadly accurate.

The thumbprints of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are all over the amendment and the Koch brothers-run organization isn’t about to stop with gutting the pensions of a few union retirees.

And before anyone tries to claim that business and industry does not have an organized union to represent their interests, we have three words for you: U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And the U.S. Chamber is not only a member of ALEC, but is a major operative within ALEC. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/U.S._Chamber_of_Commerce

In 1971, an obscure corporate attorney named Lewis Powell authored what has come to be known as the Powell Manifesto. In it, he laid out a blueprint for a corporate legislative agenda to his friend Eugene Sydnor, Director of the U.S. Chamber. That memorandum by Powell, written only two months before President Nixon nominated him to the U.S. Supreme Court, inspired the creation of the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute and Citizens for a Sound Economy, among others.

Powell’s memo has also served ALEC’s legislative agenda which includes, among other things, the privatization of Social Security and Medicare. http://reclaimdemocracy.org/powell_memo_lewis/

Is it merely a coincidence that Louisiana’s Right to Work law, supported by ALEC and the U.S. Chamber, was passed only five years after Powell’s memorandum and four years after the founding of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI)?

So now, ALEC, the U.S. Chamber, and Republican leaders alike already have Social Security and Medicare in their crosshairs: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/04/republican-social-security-cuts so can other private pension plans be far behind? Will the individual states like Louisiana renew efforts to slash retirement benefits for state employees?

As Louis Reine said, it is indeed a slippery slope and once the momentum moves in that direction, it will be virtually impossible to reverse.

And it’s important to remember that while public employees’ retirement benefits are at risk, the opening salvo has been aimed at private pension benefits. If they can pull that off, the rest will simply be low-hanging fruit.

Are you willing to take to the streets to defend what is rightfully yours?

How much is your retirement worth to you?

These questions are not hypothetical.

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A group of state employees and retirees is attempting to raise funds to finance a lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Division of Administration over the pirating of nearly a quarter-billion dollars of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) reserve fund.

LA VERITE (French for Truth, but also an acronym for Louisiana Voices of Employees and Retirees for Insurance Truth and Equity) is soliciting donations to help pay the legal fees required to file and to pursue the litigation to prevent Jindal from dipping further into what once was a reserve fund of more than $500 million in order to balance his perpetually out-of-kilter state budget.

Below is a letter LouisianaVoice received from LA VERITE which is self-explanatory:

GIVE YOURSELF A CHRISTMAS GIFT –

INVEST IN YOUR FUTURE

 DONATE TODAY TO SUE BOBBY JINDAL AND

STOP THE OGB HEALTH PLAN CHANGES THAT WILL KEEP YOU AND YOUR FAMILY FROM HAVING AFFORDABLE INSURANCE AND HEALTH CARE

Are you ready to join the fight to stop Bobby Jindal’s illegal destruction of the Office of Group Benefits?  You can be a part of the challenge to Bobby Jindal’s plan to prevent state employees and retirees from having decent, affordable, comprehensive health insurance.

 PLEASE DONATE WHATEVER YOU CAN AFFORD TO LA VERITE’ SO WE CAN FILE A LAWSUIT TO STOP THE CRIPPLNG INCREASES IN OUT-OF-POCKET (YOUR POCKET) COSTS OF THE NEW HEALTH INSURANCE PLANS TAKING EFFECT ON MARCH 1, 2015. 

 We cannot file the lawsuit until funds have been raised to do so.

 Please send a check or money order as soon as possible to:

LA VERITE’

7575 Jefferson Hwy. #35

Baton Rouge, LA  70806

 HELP STOP THE ILLEGAL AND IMMORAL THEFT OF

YOUR HARD EARNED MONEY.

Jindal plans to balance the state budget on us – state employees and retirees.  Can you afford to pay for his giveaways to his rich friends through tax breaks that have drained the state budget?  We will be paying for Jindal’s corrupt practices long after he is gone.  See the news story below:

From The Advocate: ‘State budget saving report brings questions':

Marsha Shuler Dec. 08, 2014

The Jindal administration is two-thirds of the way toward achieving savings called for in the state’s $25 billion budget for the current fiscal year, officials told a legislative committee Monday….The administration updated the committee on goals contained in the Governmental Efficiencies Management Support report released in June. The overall report, submitted by private consultants Alvarez & Marsal, identifies more than $2.7 billion savings or revenue generating ideas that the state will implement over the next five years across all areas of operations…. About $1 billion of the savings is expected to come from the state Office of Group Benefits which provides insurance to some 230,000 state employees, teachers, retirees and their dependents. Changes are currently underway, including increased premiums and shifting more out-of-pocket expenses to plan members.

*****************************

After years without merit increases, some state employees finally received a raise last year, and most received a four percent raise Oct. 1. Our paychecks would be approximately 20 percent more if we had received regular merit increases during the Jindal years. While Jindal pretends not to raise taxes, we state employees are being taxed in effect, to fund tax breaks for the very wealthy.

THERE WILL BE NO RAISE IN 2015 DUE TO THE CURRENT FISCAL CRISIS – A HUGE DEFICIT THIS FISCAL YEAR. Drastic mid-year budget cuts will soon be announced to attempt to deal with THE LOOMING $1.4 BILLION DEFICIT NEXT FISCAL YEAR.

Jindal has privatized OGB and raided the trust fund, so now we are facing increased premiums, imposition of deductibles where none existed before, and confusing plans that have been repeatedly changed so we cannot understand the coverage….all designed to further punish hardworking, dedicated public servants.  After withholding our merit increases for years Jindal now plans to impose crippling increases in our healthcare costs that most of us cannot afford.

Jindal and Kristi Nichols have refused to abide by the requirements of the Louisiana Administrative Procedures Act (APA) – actions which the Attorney General has ruled illegal, meaning their OGB agenda is not legal. They are thumbing their noses at the law, and jeopardizing the wellbeing of almost a quarter of a million Louisiana citizens. Help stop the most corrupt administration in modern state history from carrying out their plan to cause further financial harm to you and your family.

*********************

LA VERITE’ is a group of state employees and retirees seeking to bring a lawsuit to prevent Jindal and Kristi Nichols from forcing us into poorly designed, expensive health plans that we cannot afford.  Anyone can join LA Verite’ – in fact, you already belong if you are an active or retired Louisiana state employee.

LA Verite’ is French for TRUTH, and stands for LouisianA Voices of Employees and Retirees for Insurance Truth and Equity.

Contact us at LA.Verite2015@outlook.com

Remember: as a civil servant, you have the right to participate in activities concerning issues that impact you.  You may publicly support or oppose issues other than support of candidates or political parties (Civil Service General Circular Number 2014-021).  We have also consulted a state ethics attorney who assures that we are within our rights.  This effort is legal and ethical.

However, be assured that your donation to LA VERITE’ to help fund the OGB lawsuit will be kept confidential.  Your identity will not be made public.  Donations are not tax deductible.

Please share this information with co-workers.  Forward the email or print it out and pass it on.  Truth and equity in 2015!

 

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If you think Gov. Bobby Jindal has bankrupted this state with his squirrely economic policies, you need to read this.

If you are the least bit concerned about his decimation of higher education, you need to read this.

If his repetitive patchwork budgets and annual budget cuts alarm you, you need to read this.

If it bothers you that he has given away state hospitals, raided the reserves of the health plan for public employees and attempted to slash state employees’ retirement benefits while secretly having legislation introduced to augment the retirement of the state police commander by some $55,000 a year, you definitely need to read this.

If you believe he should have stayed at home to tend to the state’s business instead of gallivanting off to Iowa and New Hampshire in pursuit of a Republican presidential nomination, then by all means, you should read this.

In short, if you believe he has been a major disappointment in administering the affairs of a single state—Louisiana—you need to examine his grandiose plans for America, his plans to do to the nation what he has done to our state. You owe that much to yourselves and your children.

You see, an outfit called Friends of Bobby Jindal has a web blog of its own which, of course, is certainly their right. But curiously, in addition to touting the latest pronouncements, op-ed pieces written by Jindal and his appearances on Fox News, the page has a “DONATE” button that allows supporters to contribute to Jindal’s political campaign.

Jindal Weekly Update

But wait. What’s he running for? He is term-limited and cannot run for re-election as governor next year and he has steadfastly refused to divulge whether or he plans to run for President (though there are few who doubt it; his family members were discussing openly during his first inauguration in 2008).

We don’t know how we got on the mailing list, but we’re certainly glad we did. Otherwise, how else could we keep up with the activities of a man on the run like Bobby Jindal?

On the latest mail-out, a “quick recap of the news about the governor’s week,” we have stories about:

  • The First Lady’s travels to Eunice to promote the Supriya Jindal Foundation;
  • Gov. Jindal’s announcement of the expansion of Oxlean Manufacturing in Livingston Parish;
  • Louisiana’s joining other states in suing President Obama over his immigration order;
  • An op-ed piece by (yawn) Jindal criticizing Obama and calling for a repeal of Obamacare;
  • Jindal’s appearance on (yawn again) Fox News where he criticized Obama for trying to redefine the American Dream;
  • Another op-ed criticizing Obama for the president’s apparent failure to believe in American exceptionalism;
  • Jindal’s speech at a foreign policy form in Washington, D.C. in which he called for increased military spending.

It was that last one (actually first on the Friends web blog because we listed them in reverse order) that caught our attention. http://freebeacon.com/national-security/2016-gop-hopefuls-call-for-boost-in-defense-spending/

Our first reaction was: What the hell is he thinking, commenting on foreign policy and military spending when he can’t even balance the budget of a single state? But then we remembered it was Jindal and typically, he panders to the fringe element that adheres to the concept that we are the world’s policeman and that we must impose our will on others despite their resentment of our failure to respect their traditions and cultures. And we’re not just talking about Islam here. Remember Vietnam? For that matter, go back and familiarize yourself with how we took land north of the Rio Grande from Mexico. And to the American Indians (Native Americans, we one insists on political correctness), we are the original illegal immigrants.

Okay, we got off-track and started talking about his American exceptionalism op-ed and while the two issues are interlinked, let’s get back to his advocacy of increased military spending.

First and foremost, it is important to know that America already spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined. President George W. Bush’s defense spending, for example, eclipsed that of the Cold War.

Historian Paul Kennedy, in his book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, noted that powerful nations have an unsettling habit throughout history of becoming the leading economic and leading military power and then “overreaching with their military ambitions while their economies sputter past their prime.”

Kennedy said that even as the economic strengths are on the decline, growing foreign challenges force greater and greater military expenditures at the sacrifice of productive investment which he said leads to the “downward spiral of slower growth, heavier taxes, deepening domestic splits over spending priorities and a weakening capacity to bear the burdens of defense.”

He said the U.S. currently runs the risk of “imperial overstretch where our global interests and obligations are larger than our ability to defend them all simultaneously.

Kennedy wrote that back in 1987 but during her run for the Democratic nomination in 2008, Hillary Clinton, like her or not, said if $1 trillion spent in Iraq had been applied instead to domestic programs, it would:

  • Provide healthcare for all 47 million uninsured Americans;
  • Provide quality pre-kindergarten for every American child;
  • Solve the housing crisis once and for all;
  • Make college affordable for every American student, and
  • Provide tax relief to tens of millions of middle-class families.

A classic example of our failure to heed the warning of President Dwight Eisenhower when he warned of the importance of resisting the influence of the “military-industrial complex” is the tar baby this country is stuck to in the Mideast.

Ike warned the country during his farewell address of Jan. 17, 1961, when he said, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

http://coursesa.matrix.msu.edu/~hst306/documents/indust.html

Back during the elder Bush’s administration, it was the defense of Kuwait against Saddam Hussein and Iraq—way back in 1991. That’s a quarter-century ago. Later, with Bush II, it was Saddam Hussein and WMD that have yet to be found. No sooner did W announce “Mission accomplished,” than we found ourselves in a conflict that, believe it or not, has now lasted longer than the Vietnam War—with no end in sight. That war has expanded into Afghanistan and now Iran with an invisible enemy called the Islamic State (IS) whom we cannot find, let alone fight.

And how much have those skirmishes cost this country? Click on this link to find out.

http://costsofwar.org/article/economic-cost-summary

That $4.4 trillion includes not only the immediate $1.7 trillion cost of America’s Mideast policy, but the interest on loans to finance the war, the cost of support bases elsewhere in the world, homeland security, nation building (building infrastructure on the war-torn countries while neglecting our own infrastructure), retirement, disability and medical benefits for war veterans, etc., costs our grandchildren will be paying off after we are long gone.

And just how do we pay for these wars in Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan? World War II was financed by raising taxes or selling war bonds. Not so these modern wars, beginning with Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam; they’re financed almost entirely by borrowing which has raised the U.S. budget deficit (something of which Jindal should have a working knowledge), increased the national debt. The interest alone on Pentagon spending from 2001 through 2013 is approximately $316 billion.

To put expenditures in better perspective, consider that American taxpayers are paying:

  • $312,500 every hour for military action against ISIS (total thus far almost $1.4 billion);
  • $10.17 million per hour for the cost of the war in Afghanistan (nearly $800 million to date);
  • $365,000 per hour for the cost of the war in Iraq ($818 billion so far);
  • $10.54 million per hour for the total cost of wars since 2001 ($1.6 trillion);
  • $58 million per hour for the Department of Defense ($602.7 billion budget);
  • $861,000 per hour for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter ($9 billion);
  • $2.12 million per hour for our nuclear weapon arsenal ($22 billion);
  • $37,000 each hour for Tomahawk Cruise Missiles ($385 million);
  • $1.33 million every hour for foreign military assistance ($13.8 billion to date);
  • $8.43 million per hour for Homeland Security ($804.5 billion since 9/11);

By comparison, here are some hourly expenditures by U.S. taxpayers for other services in 2014 (with the year-to-date expenditures in parenthesis):

  • $7.81 million for education ($81.14 billion, and don’t forget, Rick Perry wanted to abolish the Dept. of Education);
  • $3.04 million on the environment ($31.6 billion–ditto Perry on the EPA);
  • $2.71 million on foreign aid ($28.2 billion);
  • $4.9 million on housing assistance ($50.8 billion);
  • $36.91 million for Medicaid and CHIP ($383.6 billion);
  • $13.3 million for nutrition assistance ($138.1 billion).

https://www.nationalpriorities.org/cost-of/

And Gov. Jindal would have the U.S. commit even more money to the Pentagon, according to a grizzled old reporter a whole year out of college (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill).

Daniel Wiser, writing for something called the Washington Free Beacon (a sister publication to the Hooterville World Guardian of the TV series Green Acres, no doubt), placed Jindal squarely in the same camp as gunslingers John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a couple of veteran Senate saber rattlers.

Wiser said that Jindal released a paper in October calling for allocating 4 percent of the nation’s GDP to defense spending.

Jindal said the U.S. is “in the process of hollowing out our military,” the article said. Jindal added that “The best way for America to lead… is for America to rebuild our tools of hard power.”

It would be bad enough if an otherwise comparatively level-headed candidate like Rick Perry or Rand Paul (everything, after all, is relative) were elected, but if Jindal had a prayer of becoming president, this would be some horrifyingly scary stuff.

The good news is we don’t have to worry about that. Perry or Paul, on the other hand…

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If anything at all can be taken from the 100-plus pages of grand jury testimony of Bruce Greenstein, it’s that Greenstein’s memory lapses and his reluctance to adequately answer repeated questions about his role in the awarding of a major contract to his former bosses taxed the patience of members of the grand jury who were forced to listen to his verbal sparring with prosecutors for hours on end.

But in the end, there was no smoking gun, although Greenstein, former Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) Secretary, on several occasions during his testimony said an agency-wide memorandum cautioning DHH employees to avoid contact with bidders on the $189 million contract during the selection process did not apply to him.

Though grand jury testimony is normally secret, several perjury counts returned against Greenstein in the nine-count indictment were based on his grand jury testimony so it would be subject to discovery in order for Greenstein to prepare his legal defense and therefore would be public.

Greenstein also admitted he initiated what has come to be known as “Addendum No. 2,” which was crucial in allowing his former employer, CNSI, to qualify to submit proposals for the contract, which it ultimately won in mid-2011. The contract was cancelled in March of 2013 when it became known than the FBI had been investigating the contract since January of that year.

During his testimony, it was revealed that Greenstein had maintained constant contact with a friend at CNSI, Vice President of Government Affairs Creighton Carroll and that the frequency of those contacts increased dramatically during Greenstein’s interviewing for the Louisiana job and during the formulation of Addendum No. 2.

In the first five months of 2010, for example, there eight total contacts consisting of texts and phone calls between the two men. In June of, however, just before he began the interview process for the DHH position, there were 75 contacts. From July through January, there were 864 contacts, including 227 in January of 2011 alone, when “the whole Addendum 2 stuff was going down,” according to Assistant Attorney General Butch Wilson. “Before you take office,” Wilson said, “we have not even a dozen contacts with Mr. Carroll. And after you take office, we have a total…of 2,882 communications. How do you explain that?”

“He is a prolific texter,” Greenstein replied.

Further into the questioning, Wilson was still trying to reconcile Greenstein’s testimony before the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee in which he claimed he had no contact with CNSI officials during the bidding process and the facts to the contrary as revealed by the thousands of text messages and telephone calls between Greenstein and CNSI.

“…Four months after a very important conversation with your friend and former employer, Mr. (CNSI co-founder and President Adnan) Ahmed, and you tell Sen. (Karen Carter) Peterson (D-New Orleans) there were no vendor conversations regarding the RFP (request for proposals) after it was released,” Wilson said. “And you admitted a minute ago that that conversation with Mr. Ahmed definitely involved the RFP. So that was not an accurate statement, was it?”

“I did not make it at the time thinking it was an inaccurate statement,” Greenstein said.

Greenstein’s memory appeared to grow progressively worse as the questions became more pointed.

“Do you recall a meeting with DHH officials and DOA (Division of Administration) people, specifically (then-Commissioner of Administration) Paul Rainwater and (DHH Assistant Secretary) J.T. Lane…where you had a meeting regarding the emails that had been found? Do you remember that meeting?”

“I don’t.”

“You don’t remember that meeting with Mr. Lane and Mr. Rainwater and several other people in between your testimonies before the Senate?”

“I don’t remember it.”

“Do you recall being explicitly asked by folks at the meeting from both DHH and DOA, ‘Is this all there is?”

“No.”

“I’m going to ask you again,” said Wilson. “Are you sure?”

“I don’t remember having a meeting with Paul Rainwater about these emails.”

At one point during Greenstein’s testimony, it was revealed by Wilson that Greenstein supposedly agreed to a letter of recommendation on behalf of CNSI to his counterpart in Arkansas. He cited a Feb. 5, 2013 email from Carroll to DHH executive counsel Steve Russo which said, “As you know, B.G.—which I believe probably means Bruce Greenstein—has agreed to a letter of recommendation…to the Arkansas Department of Human Services on behalf of the CNSI, which was also trying to get a contract for a (sic) MMIS (Medicaid Management Information Systems) system in Arkansas, correct?”

The letter subsequently went out over Undersecretary Jerry Phillips’ signature, Wilson noted, asking “Whose idea was that?”

“I can’t remember who wanted to sign it,” Greenstein said. “I know that I didn’t want to sign that.”

“Then why does Creighton say, ‘As you know, B.G. has recommended a letter of recommendation’?”

“I probably said that when asked about a recommendation,” Greenstein said.

“Your friend asked you to help his company…get more business and you said, ‘I will do that,’ right?”

“I didn’t say I will do that.”

“Well, if you said yes, why is Jerry Phillips sending out a letter?”

“Well, it’s not Bruce Greenstein on the letter.”

“I’m going to ask you pointblank. True or false: this letter that was rewritten and signed by Jerry Phillips, you directed him to do that?”

“I do not remember that,” Greenstein said.

“How could you not remember that?”

“Because I don’t remember that.”

“That’s hard to believe, Mr. Greenstein,” Wilson said. “I mean, this reference is clearly a discussion that you had with Creighton Carroll regarding this letter that he sends to your department that he, or someone from CNSI, wrote that is then minimally changed and signed by not you, but your under-secretary.

“Jerry Phillips didn’t show you this letter before he sent it out?” Wilson asked.

“I can’t remember seeing…I don’t remember seeing it.”

“It just looks to me like between Creighton’s comment here about ‘B.G. has agreed to a letter of recommendation’—and that was on Feb. 5th and the letter was issued on Feb. 14th, nine days later—this was almost sounds like cold feet. The former letter he sends is for your signature, but in nine days, now it’s got Mr. Phillips’ …signature on it.”

[The Arkansas Department of Human Services, in July of that year, disqualified CNSI from participating in the bidding on its system as a result of the Louisiana investigation and resignation of Greenstein.]

Wilson also questioned the propriety of allowing CNSI to bid on the contract to process Medicaid claims for DHH. Brandishing a letter dated Dec. 7, 2010, from the Charlotte, N.C., law firm McGuire-Woods, he said the firm was representing CNSI in a major financial default case that threatened to bankrupt the company—a full six months before the CNSI contract was signed.

“Were you ever aware of the fact that they were basically in receivership with BOA (Bank of America) at the time they were bidding? Were you ever informed of that? Were you ever told that, as a matter of fact, their line of credit had been restricted by Bank of America to the extend they could not spend money unless they got prior approval from BOA? Did Mr. Carroll and Mr. Ahmed ever tell you about the troubles, the clear financial troubles that the company was having at the time they were trying to get this money from this bid?

“Should that have been disclosed to DHH?” Wilson asked.

“That’s a good question,” replied Greenstein.

Further into Greenstein’s testimony, he was asked if he was told to resign or be fired.

“I was told to resign,” he said.

“Were you specifically told by the administration officials that you had lied to them?”

“No.”

“They just said, ‘Get out’?”

“Actually, it was Paul Rainwater—when he was in the Chief of Staff’s office.

“And did Paul ever say, ‘Bruce, you lied to us’?”

“No.”

“You are sure about that?”

“I don’t remember it.”

“You tried not to tell the Senate that CNSI had won (the contract),” Wilson said. “You didn’t tell the Senate about communications with CNSI regarding Addendum No. 2. You didn’t tell the Senate about hundreds of communications with Carroll. You did not tell DHH and DOA officials about communications with Carroll after they asked you if there was anything else, although you say you don’t recall that meeting.”

At one point in the questioning, this time from Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell, it appeared there would be a link established between the events surrounding the contract and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office, but the line of questioning ended almost as abruptly as it started.

Referencing the date of Jan. 10, 2011, Caldwell said, “I see some calls from Bruce Greenstein’s work cell back and forth between you and Timmy Teepell. What did Timmy have to do with…was he was with Division of Administration or the governor’s office at that time?”

“At that time I think he was with the Chief of Staff for the governor,” Greenstein said. [Teepell never worked for DOA].

“Do you recall what he was talking to you about?” Caldwell asked.\

“I have no idea,” replied Greenstein.

“Was he talking to you about that amendment [Addendum No. 2] of this particular contract?”

“Probably not.”

“What involvement did Mr. Teepell have in this process? What information did he have about the DHH contracts? Because I think that maybe even Mr. Ahmad said in the paper that he had gone over to the governor’s mansion to talk to him, right? I’m just trying to get a sense as to how much involvement people within the governor’s office might have had.”

Caldwell also singled out a series of communications between Greenstein and Alton Ashy, who was the lobbyist for CNSI. “Was he trying to push this amendment for CNSI, this Addendum No. 2?”

“Yeah, I mean, he should have been… but he had a lot of other business at DHH as well.”

Caldwell later noted that Greenstein at one point had asked DHH Chief of Staff Calder Lynch specific questions about Ashy, saying, “A company I know wants to hire him” and that Lynch had responded, “Not that it’s terribly helpful or relevant, but we can speak offline.” Offline could, for example, mean speaking by phone rather than leaving a paper trail of emails.

“How did you come to get involved with recommending a lobbyist on CNSI’s behalf? I don’t understand how all that went down.”

Caldwell also grilled Greenstein on his intervention on behalf of CNSI when it became apparent that CNSI was unable to make good on its required bond for the contract. “Did you have discussion with (DHH executive Counsel) Steve Russo in which it was discussed whether you could wait until the contract was signed to call for the bond to be posted?”

“I don’t remember a conversation like that.”

Greenstein and Caldwell sparred over the refusal to allow Greenstein to communicate with Russo after the investigation was initiated. “DHH wouldn’t allow me to talk with my own attorney,” Greenstein complained.

“Is he your personal lawyer?” Caldwell asked.

“He represented the secretary in many proceedings…he reiterated many, many times…that he was my attorney and we have attorney-client privilege.”

“Let me explain to you why he doesn’t want to talk to you,” Caldwell said. “There’s all these things in your deposition where you have said that people said something or they didn’t say something—and I will tell you right now, it is directly contradicted by what those people have said. [Caldwell hinted at but never actually said that Russo was—and is—paid by the State of Louisiana and represents DHH but not any DHH personnel once they come under investigation for or charged by the state with wrongdoing].

Later, Caldwell brought up boasts by CNSI officials that they had political influence with Greenstein’s office. “Are you aware that they constantly threw it around that they had influence on the ninth floor and this is how they were going to get the contract?”

“No,” Greenstein replied.

Even though Greenstein maintained that he pushed for Addendum No. 2 as a means of opening up the bidding process to more vendors in the hopes of obtaining the best deal possible for the state, Caldwell noted that when another bidder, ACS, requested an extension of the proposal deadline, “Bruce said no,” according to an internal DHH email.

After the attorneys took their shots, individual members of the grand jury had their turn at asking questions of Greenstein and the mood of the grand jury was best summed up by one member near the close of testimony who said:

“Sir, I just have two questions. How are you being transparent when you can’t recall anything and secondly, when you sit down with your children and you explain your part in Louisiana history, what will you tell them?”

For those with lots of time on your hands, here is a link to the full transcript of the grand jury testimony: http://www.auctioneer-la.org/Bruce_Greenstein_Grand_Jury_Testimony.pdf

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By James D. Kirylo

Guest Columnist

Governor Jindal recently appeared on Meet the Press. The host Chuck Todd peppered the Governor with a variety of questions, asking why he didn’t expand Medicaid, being that it would be helpful for the 200,000 uninsured people in the state (although the number is likely more toward the 750,000 range).

Todd also reminded the Governor how Louisiana nearly has a billion dollar hole in our budget; how at every midyear review, our deficit has grown; how the big tax cut at the beginning of the governor’s term has not been followed by revenue; and that a majority in Louisiana disapprove of his job as governor.

Governor Jindal predictably deflected much of what Todd said, and stated at the onset that he doesn’t care about the poll numbers and never has. He also proudly mentioned that he’s cut our state budget 26 percent, cut the number of state employees 34 percent, and declared how not spending on Medicaid is another dollar we don’t have to borrow from China, and that we shouldn’t waste those federal tax dollars.

Furthermore, the Governor asserted how we’ve actually improved healthcare access and outcomes here in our state.  Citing an example—how it used to take ten days to get a prescription filled—now one can get it done in ten minutes. Finally, the Governor also touted his so-called school choice program, and concluded that he has balanced the budget every single year without running deficits, and without raising taxes.

As I watched Meet the Press, listening to the least transparent governor in the nation, I was amazed, though not surprised, by what the Governor did not mention, some of which I will, therefore, do here. First, when the Governor says he does not care that the majority of Louisianans disapprove of his job as governor, it obviously means he doesn’t care what I think, what state workers think, and what the hundreds and thousands of us who have been greatly harmed by his policies think. It is obvious there is only one person the Governor cares about.

Of course, he didn’t mention that when he talks about how he has sliced and diced the state budget, it has resulted in the near decimation of higher education. Indeed, universities have been cut 80% in the last several years, tuition has exponentially risen, and the LA Grad Act is simply a devious scheme that fosters a system that unduly taxes students in order to fund higher education. In a poor state like ours, this is simply a formula that further widens the opportunity gap, and further widens the gap between the proverbial “haves” and “have-nots.”

He also didn’t mention that numerous underpaid university people have endured near poverty wages, have endured furloughs, have had no cost of living allowances now inching toward the ten year mark, that numerous individuals can’t afford health care, that top flight faculty have left the state, that public school teachers have been blamed for everything that ails our state, that Louisiana has the nation’s fourth highest high school dropout rate, that our high school graduation rate ranks 45th in the nation, that we have one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the country, and that we have the highest incarceration rate in the country, if not the world.

Of course, he didn’t mention that Louisiana ranks 50th among the states in overall health, and that we lead the nation in the highest infant mortality rate, the highest diabetes-related death rate, and the highest rate of death from breast cancer, and third-highest rate of cancer deaths overall.

And of course, he wouldn’t mention that according to a Washington Post report a short while back, the state of Louisiana is expecting a $1.2 billion budget shortfall next year, which has now risen to 1.4 billion. And this is despite the Jindal administration hiring a New York-based consulting firm for $7.3 million to find ways to generate and save revenue. Finally, he didn’t mention what can be characterized as the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) scandal, where many are asking about the half of the $500 million dollars that was in the OGB reserve fund, but is now gone.

It should be no surprise critics are calling Jindal’s handling of the budget his blind-spot. But that is not his only blind spot. The other one is that he is blind to the fact that he has hurt the lives of so many hard-working Louisianans.  And the irony of ironies when the Governor concluded his visit with Meet the Press, he stated that the American Dream was in jeopardy and that should he run for president, he would focus on restoring that dream.

It was then I turned off my television set, had to shake my head, and grabbed my dictionary to double-check the definition of delusional.

James D. Kirylo is an education professor, a former state teacher of the year, and his most recent book is titled A Critical Pedagogy of Resistance.  He can be reached at jkirylo@yahoo.com

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What will Gov. Bobby Jindal say when he appears on Meet the Press Sunday?

Of course we know he will attack President Obama and the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare while ignoring the fact that his decision not to expand Medicaid may end up costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s a given.

At the same time he is criticizing Obama for not being more proactive on the Ebola crisis, he will fail to mention his rejection of the Medicaid expansion has been at the expense of health coverage for a couple hundred thousand low-income Louisianans.

He will condemn the president for his lax immigration policy while turning a blind eye to the indisputable fact that Latin Americans who do enter this country generally take low-paying jobs no one else wants. He won’t mention companies like IBM, Dell, ACS, and Pfizer, to name but a few, that have taken advantage of an obscure work visa (the H-1B program) to lay off more than 250,000 Americans from high-tech IT jobs. These companies lay Americans off in favor of importing hundreds of thousands of Indians who work for far less, thus saving these companies billions of dollars.

He will no doubt boast of his accomplishments as governor—claims that simply will not stand up under close examination—apparently pulled off by remote control. This is especially the case during his second term when his title would more accurately be governor in absentia. He has spent an inordinate amount of time traveling outside the state in an attempt to build support for a anemic campaign for the GOP presidential nomination that, despite his near-desperate efforts, is gaining no traction.

He could lambast the Common Core curriculum, once again ignoring that fact that he was in favor of Common Core before he was against it.

There are so many other things he could discuss but probably won’t.

He won’t mention, for instance, his abysmal record in the state’s courtrooms. One of these was his miserably failed effort to jerk retirement benefits from under the feet of active state employees, some of whom would have seen their retirement income plummet to as little as $6,000 a year—with no social security—had he been successful.

He will attempt once again to convince the nation—those of us in Louisiana know better, of course—that he has balanced the state budget while cutting taxes and reducing the number of state employees.

Yes, he has reduced the number of state employees, but at what cost? The Office of Group Benefits (OGB) is a shell of the once smooth-running state office that handled the medical claims of some 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents. Not that that matters to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols who, we are told, is a member of the LSU health plan and thus unaffected by the changes.

And of course Jindal, through his smoke and mirrors game of premium reductions, has managed to siphon off more than half of OGB’s $500 million reserve fund. He also recently attempted to slash benefits and pile unaffordable co-pay and deductible increases onto the backs of state employees and retirees. In short, his grand scheme to privatize OGB has proven nothing less than an unmitigated disaster of politically humiliating (to him) proportions. His firing of respected CEO Tommy Teague and the mess that has ensued stand as a monument to unparalleled mismanagement and political meddling.

And his budget balancing has produced unprecedented cuts to higher education. Colleges and universities in Louisiana have seen their appropriations gouged by nearly 70 percent during Jindal’s almost seven sorry years in office. God help us if he should somehow be placed in the position of inflicting such carnage on the nation as he has on Louisiana.

And what of that claim of balancing the budget, anyway?

Let’s review.

We will take figures provided to us by State Treasurer John Kennedy that reflect the general fund balances as of Oct. 31. And while we are quick to acknowledge the fact that the numbers will certainly improve next spring when revenues start picking up from state income tax and corporate tax collections, a comparison of the last five Octobers is both startling and sobering.

As of Oct. 31 of this year, the general fund balance reflected a deficit of $924.6 million. That’s just $75.4 million shy of $1 billion—and OGB alone is losing $16 million each month.

And yes, the numbers will improve next spring but let’s look back just one year. As of Oct. 31, 2013, the balance reflected a deficit of $656.7 million. That’s nearly $268 million less in negative spending than for this year.

Still not convinced? Well, for Oct. 31, 2012, the deficit was $476.6 million, about $448 million less than for the same month in 2014.

And while it was slightly higher at $565.2 million on Oct. 31, 2011, the number for 2010 was only $181.5 million—almost three-quarters of a billion dollars billion better than this year.

In five short years, the October deficit for the state general fund balance has increased fivefold.

The historically high negative balance, which arrives just a few months into each new fiscal year (which begins on July 1), “is forcing fund borrowing to sustain cash flow,” Kennedy says. “It darkly foreshadows the challenge ahead for lawmakers and the governor in the 2015 regular session. A budget shortfall of at least $1.2 billion is expected, but it’s clearly a figure that could move. It also increases the likelihood of midyear budget cuts in the minds of some.” (The administration finally admitted this even as this post was being written on Friday. Spending for the next seven months will have to be slashed by at least $171 million because of lower than anticipated revenues.) http://theadvocate.com/news/10833948-123/state-needs-mid-year-budget-correction

And here is the rub that has Kennedy and Nichols crossing swords: Kennedy says to some lawmakers, “the negative balance is at a critical high because the state started the fiscal year with a deficit cash balance of $141 million and because expenses actually are greater than revenues,” Kennedy said.

Nichols, however, vehemently disagrees, claiming instead that the administration stumbled upon some $320 million in extra cash from prior years lying around in agencies scattered across the state which she claims gives the state an actual surplus of nearly $179 million.

The problem she has, however, is that no one believes her—including two former commissioners of administration interviewed by LouisianaVoice, both of whom say it’s just not feasible that that much money could have been just lying around all these years without anyone’s knowing of its existence.

Nichols, of course, has to maintain a brave face in order that her boss can save face.

You see, as Bob Mann points out in his latest posting on his blog Something Like the Truth, Jindal “must never have raised a tax” and “must never have presided over an unbalanced state budget” if he wishes to cling to any fading hopes of the GOP presidential nomination.

“All your advantages—your personality, your policy credentials, the importance of your state in Electoral College politics—won’t help you much if you don’t meet these basic qualifications,” Mann said. http://bobmannblog.com/

“Jindal knows Republican audiences in Iowa and elsewhere will pay him little mind if they learn about his fiscal recklessness,” he said. “So, he and Nichols tried to cover their tracks, including dishonestly blaming their budget deficit on state Treasurer John Kennedy.”

Jindal, of course, won’t address any of these issues. But were he of a mind to do so, he could even discuss on his Meet the Press appearance how he tried to frame Murphy Painter, former director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control after Painter refused to knuckle under to demands that he look the other way on behalf of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson over Budweiser’s application for an alcohol permit at Champion’s Square. He could tell how that effort backfired and the state was forced to pay Painter’s legal bills of some $300,000. But he probably won’t

He could discuss how he attempted unsuccessfully to circumvent state law and obtain a hefty $55,000 per year increase in pension benefits for his state police commander. But most likely, he won’t.

And he could disclose how much it has cost Louisiana taxpayers in terms of payroll, meals and lodging for state police security as he jets around the country in pursuit of his presidential aspirations. But don’t expect him to.

Yes, Jindal could discuss these and other matters during Sunday’s program, but he won’t.

The simple fact is, by virtue of his bottom-feeding position as the anchor in the GOP nominee sweepstakes, he just can’t afford to.

And saddest of all, no one on the program’s panel is likely to inquire about these issues.

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Two legislative committees charged with oversight of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) are expected to demand that OGB roll back dramatic increases in health care co-payments and deductibles the agency is attempting to impose on hundreds of thousands of state employees to make up for the Jindal administration’s mismanagement of the agency when they meet in tandem on Friday.

The Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committee will meet at 10 a.m. on Friday but will not take testimony from the public.

The two committees are expected to instruct Nichols and OGB CEO Susan West to slash the increases in deductibles—some couples’ deductibles increased from $300 to $3,000 under the new plan being proposed by OGB–and co-pays.

OGB has already announced a two-month delay in the implementation of steep increases in prescription drug costs and will refund about $4.5 million in overcharges to state employees.

The Jindal administration is attempting to impose the co-pay and deductible increases as a way to recover hundreds of millions of dollars the administration managed to squander as a cost-savings to the state’s own contributions to employees’ premiums as a means to cover huge gaps in Jindal’s state budget.

The entire scenario reads like the script from an old I Love Lucy sitcom as everything the administration had done with OGB has blown up in its face in an improbable comedy of errors. How more insulting to legislators could it get than for Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols to provide false testimony to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget on Sept. 25 shortly before abruptly leaving the JLCB meeting to take her daughter to a boy band concert in New Orleans?

When asked point blank by State Rep. John Bel Edwards at that Sept. 25 hearing–before heading out to the Smoothie King Arena to settle into the governor’s luxury box seats for the concert—which actuary recommended that OGB reduce premiums by nearly 9 percent, she testified that Buck Consultants made the recommendation.

But Buck reportedly responded by email within days that it never made any such recommendation and that Nichols’ testimony was in direct contradiction to its recommendations.

A July report from Buck reinforces its claim that it never made any such recommendation. “We did not recommend a decrease of 7% effective August 1, 2012, or an additional decrease of 1.77% effective August 1, 2013. Further, we were not asked to provide any recommended rate adjustments for any fiscal years beyond what we provided for Fiscal Year 2012/2013,” the report says.

When witnesses sign cards prior to speaking before a legislative committee, they are certifying that they understand that their testimony is considered as being given under oath.

Edwards also asked at the hearing that Nichols or West provide him with a copy of that recommendation but he said on Wednesday (Nov. 5) that he still had not received that information. “I still have not received any actuarial recommendations for the 2013 and 2014 premium reductions at OGB,” he told LouisianaVoice. “Nor have they told me that such recommendations do not exist. Clearly, they do not.”

If someone were to set out to demonstrate how incompetent an administration could be, he would be hard pressed to find a better example than the manner in which it has handled the Office of Group Benefits—from firing an effective CEO who built up a $500 million reserve fund in favor of a revolving door approach to subsequent CEOs, to firing experience claims handlers with whom OGB members were comfortable, to hiring a California firm with no knowledge of Louisiana’s medical coverage program to handle telephone inquiries because experienced OGB staff were also fired, to attempting to implement emergency rules to enact the cost increases in co-pays and deductibles without the legally required public hearings, to having to refund $4.5 million in prescription drug overcharges for the same violation of the emergency rules procedures, to first claiming that it was not necessary to invoke the emergency rule and then deciding to do just that, to lying to legislators about actuarial recommendations of premium reductions.

The FUBARs and SNAFUs of OGB are so many and so irreversible that they should give pause to anyone who would entertain even the fleeting notion that Gov. Bobby Jindal is capable of leading the free world when, through his inept surrogates, he has, in less than two years, destroyed a relatively small but viable, efficient state agency.

Jindal and Nichols, of course, have a ready explanation for the OGB financial woes: medical costs have risen and it’s all Obamacare’s fault—never Jindal’s.

It’s the same arrogance level as that was demonstrated by Nichols in another appearance before a legislative committee when, trying to explain budget figures, she said somewhat condescendingly, “Let me dumb it down for you.”

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