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Archive for the ‘Layoffs’ Category

If further evidence is needed that Kristy Kreme Nichols and Susan West are trying to shovel water with a pitchfork in their efforts to put a good face on the looming changes in the Office of Group Benefits (OGB), LouisianaVoice has learned of more developments that aren’t very pretty and which are sure to only intensify the confusion and indecision accompanying the pending open enrollment period that begins on Oct. 1 and runs through Oct. 31.

And now you can add another name to the mix—that of newly hired (at $106,512 per year) Group Benefits Administrator Elise Cazes, formerly an executive with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana, which serves at the OGB third party administrator for OGB’s preferred provider organization (PPO).

Nichols, meanwhile, keeps churning out all those happy face news releases—some even written by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s communications officer Mike Reed but published in the Baton Rouge Advocate under her byline—in an attempt to assuage the concerns of some 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents now covered by OGB.

But now, in addition to the administration’s losing credibility with its rosy assurances in Louisiana, OGB customer service efforts appear to be coming unraveled in California—and perhaps even Florida—at a cost of $1 million to Louisiana taxpayers.

A week ago, we told you about the state’s $1 million contract with Ansafone of Santa Ana, California, and Ocala, Florida (okay, we first said it was Answerphone of Albany, New York and that the contract was for $2 million, but our IT (I’m Telling) source in Nichols’ office was incorrect on those points).

At any rate, the state hired Ansafone to hire 100 persons in California and another 100 in Florida to man phone banks to field questions from OGB members. Not only was it absurd (not to mention heartless) to fire two dozen OGB employees recently because there was “not enough work” for them, but to then pay an out-of-state firm to hire phone bank employees in California and Florida—employees completely unfamiliar with OGB’s proposed coverage plans—was nothing less than insulting, not to mention shortsighted and yes, stupid.

To illustrate our point, we received word today (Thursday) out of California of what can best be described as a monumental disaster in the making. The preparations being made in Santa Ana have all the clearheaded thinking of a sack of rats in a burning meth lab, to paraphrase a line from Two and a-Half Men.

It seems that the job fair for prospective employees to man the phones more closely resembled a cattle call, a term normally used to describe open auditions for movie and television parts. That’s where actors and actresses (in this case prospective telephone service representatives) show up en masse for auditions (job interviews).

Except in this case there were no interviews of any of the 80 or so applicants who showed up. Instead, they were shown a video presentation that passed for orientation at the end of which they were all congratulated on their new jobs. No interviews, no screening, no background checks. Hired.

There followed six days of “training,” that consisted of the reading of handouts distributed to the new employees. “They read to us verbatim from a two-inch-thick document,” said one of the hires who asked that his name not be revealed. “Half of those there kept falling asleep.”

He said the OGB representative, Elise Cazes, asked for feedback from the new employees, some of whom failed to return for the second day of “training.”

“It was not until our first day on the phones that they told us the information they had tried drilling into us was wrong,” he said, adding that they were told to instead use “the knowledge base on the computer.”

He said the problem with that was the knowledge base, which contains a dozen or so links “only comes up when there is a call coming through,” making it impossible to access the data in advance.

“If I take a call, I like to be able to answer questions without having to put him on hold while I search for the proper link to access so the caller does not think I don’t know what the hell I’m doing,” he said.

“I expressed my concerns about this and I asked for printouts of the correct information. I thought they were serious when they said they wanted feedback. I was wrong. Wednesday was my day off and I was called at home and told the client no longer wanted me on the project.”

The “client,” he said, was OGB and the directive came from Cazes.

At least you have to give her credit: she certainly learned quickly that dissention is not tolerated by Jindal and his hand puppets.

Our source said the people Ansafone and OGB have answering insurance plan questions “are grossly unprepared for the questions that plan members have or are going to have with open enrollment begins. The slapped everything together,” he said.

“My last day there (Tuesday) they were still purchasing computers and setting them up. They ran out of room and had to set up in a warehouse with no air conditioning,” he said. “They were running fiber optic cable and wires everywhere.

“I feel bad for these people who are going to be calling. They’re (OGB and Ansafone) are doing everything on the fly. The system is middle school at best. There are going to be dropped calls, incorrect answers and a multitude of other problems,” he said.

He said members who do not select a plan or who do so incorrectly will be automatically defaulted to the Pelican HRA 1000 plan which is the least desirable of the four plans OGB will offer next year.

As you read this, keep in mind that Ansafone’s web page somewhat prophetically contains its “five Star Recipe for Customer Service Failure.” http://www.ansafone.com/five-star-recipe-for-customer-service-failure/

Oops. Looks like that page has been taken down since we called attention to it last Friday. Perhaps Ansafone took one look at the OGB open enrollment plan and saw customer service failure in the cards. And a million bucks can cause you to compromise on otherwise strongly held principles.

Nevertheless, the recipe is was so rich in irony that we can’t resist giving you the three main ingredients again:

  • A “tablespoon of no communication.”
  • A “dash of not caring.”
  • “4 ounces of empty promises.”

OGB members may wish to start a check list to keep score on the accuracy of that recipe just for the fun of it.

The legislature is scheduled to review the OGB Health benefits in the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget on Friday (Sept. 19) and in the House Appropriations Committee next Thursday (Sept. 25).

Additionally, OGB has scheduled a series of meetings throughout the state during October to answer questions about the open enrollment.

https://www.groupbenefits.org/portal/pls/portal30/ogbweb.get_latest_news_file?p_doc_name=4D7A497A4F4445794D793551524559334D6A4531

The information OGB has supplied for annual enrollment leaves many questions unanswered.

One reader has compiled a list of questions that need to be answered before making an informed choice. The questions that should be posed to OGB during these hearings are as follows..

  • The flexible benefits guide for 2015 is not on the website.  Are the IRS maximums of $2500 still applicable?
  • The benefit comparisons do not include any mention of laboratory and radiology services. Are these subject to the deductible? Also, what are the co-pay and/or co-insurance amounts for each plan?
  • Annual mammograms are currently covered with no charge for OGB members. Will this continue? What about pathology for well women pap-smears?
  • Are the co-insurance amounts computed on the contract rate for in-network providers? What about the co-insurance computation for out of network providers—is this on the contract rate or provider charges?
  • Are the listed deductibles for in-network providers a separate amount from the listed deductible for out of network providers? Example, is the total deductible for in-network and out-of-network providers for Pelican HRA 1000 $2000 + $4000 for $6000 deductible? Is this the same answer for all plans?
  • For Out-of-Pocket Maximums (OOPM), once the OOPM is reached, are all services/benefits covered at 100%? Are the OOPMs for in-network providers a separate amount form the listed OOPM for out-of-network providers? Example, is the total OOPMs for in-network and out-of-network providers for Pelican HRA 1000 $5,000 + $10,000 for $15,000 OOPMs? Is this the same answer for all plans?

The problem is the only ones who might have an interest in the OGB open enrollment and the options offered are state employees.

And state employees who ask questions are subject to being teagued.

Ah, but there is a silver lining.

All the meetings, including the legislative committee meetings, are scheduled during the work day which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for many state employees and teachers to attend.

So it appears your jobs are safe for now even if your medical coverage is not.

Whew! That was close!

 

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

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

The reality is much worse.

Much worse indeed, particularly for state retirees.

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

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

OGB Report_July 2014 FOR JLCB

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

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

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

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

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

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

And OGB is completely complicit in this portentous plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Governor, the ball is now in your court.

Put up or shut up.

 

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Tomorrow (Aug. 15) is the last day for 24 employees of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) but the bad news doesn’t end there, LouisianaVoice has learned.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols’ glowing guest column about the condition of OGB in Jeremy Alford’s Louisiana Politics notwithstanding, some 230,000 state employees, retirees and their dependents are in for some serious sticker shock.

http://lapolitics.com/2014/08/nichols-ogb-prepared-for-changing-world-of-health-care/

Even as Nichols babbled on about providing “better service and care to its members” while at the same time employing the by now tired and time-worn Jindal tactic of blaming everyone but Jindal for rising health care costs, the Legislative Fiscal Office was dropping a bombshell in announcing dramatic increases in health care insurance premiums for state employees coupled with benefits that will be undergoing deep cuts.

OGB Report_July 2014 FOR JLCB

Blaming the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and an aging population for rising health care costs, Nichols said “financially responsible practices” are necessary to continue providing benefits. She conveniently neglected to mention that it was the Jindal administration’s decision a year ago to lower premiums as a means of lowering the state’s 75 percent match, thereby freeing up money to plug gaping holes in Jindal’s makeshift budget.

That move, of course, help decimate OGB’s reserve fund. What started out as a $540 million surplus a year ago now stands at less than half that.

“At first glance it may seem like having a fund that large is a great thing,” she wrote. “But in reality, keeping hundreds of millions unnecessarily locked up in a reserve fund was not the best use of taxpayer money.

“Considering that the state funds 75 percent of member premiums through taxpayer dollars, letting that large of a balance sit unused meant that those funds weren’t being used for other important projects,” she said.

Nichols, of course, overlooks the fact that successful insurance companies keep health reserve funds in cases of a natural disaster or major epidemic. Companies who only manage to pay claims out of premiums on the other hand, traditionally don’t survive.

Her entire 800-word piece never once mentioned that state employees and retirees would soon be asked to pay significantly higher premiums for equally significantly reduced benefits. Instead, she parsed words, saying, “Plan changes for fiscal year 2015 are estimated to lower expected claims costs by $131.8 million…”

That sounds pretty good until you read the first page of the nine-page report released Monday by Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter and Legislative Fiscal Office Section Director J. Travis McIlwain.

State employee health plan changes, according to the report, include, among other things:

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

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

Of course, the revamp of OGB premiums and benefits was the result of the infamous Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) study.

The really amazing thing about that is Jindal rushed into the OGB privatization convinced he could do no wrong and that his was the only way and that the state was going to save millions. Yet, when things started going south, he calls in the big A&M guns.

Not only that, he forked over $199,752 to A&M to learn the best way to screw state employees.

Speaking of A&M, the contract with the firm was originally for a little more than $4.2 million but was promptly amended by $794,678, bumping the amount up to a cool $5 million. The problem with that is state law allows only a one-time contract amendment of no more than 10 percent without legislative concurrence. The amendment was for 18.9 percent.

As if that were not egregious enough, the Division of Administration subsequently amended the contract by yet another $2.4 million in May—again without bothering to obtain the legally mandated concurrence from the legislature.

Nothing, it seems, is beneath this administration.

Well, don’t say you weren’t warned. LouisianaVoice said before the OGB privatization ever took place that it would be necessary to raise premiums or lower benefits.

But Jindal, wunderkind that he is, insisted his privatization plan, ripped straight from the pages of the handbook of his only private sector employer, McKinsey & Co., would be more cost efficient than having those lazy state workers process claims and that the state would save money.

And lest you forget, McKinsey advised AT&T in 1980 there was no future in cell phones.

And of course, McKinsey developed the flawless business plan for Enron.

To a degree Jindal is correct; the state will now save money—on the backs of state employees.

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

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

Bingo! And right on cue, Carpenter’s report echoed Edwards:

“The health plan and prescription drug plan policy changes…will shift more of the costs from the state to the OGB plan member,” it said.

That shift will save the state a minimum of $44.7 million for health plan changes and at least $69 million for prescription drug plan changes in fiscal year 2015, the report said.

“Along with premiums, the major costs incurred for medical services by an OGB plan member will be deductibles, co-payments and coinsurance,” it said. “The new health plan offerings will significantly reduce the cost to OGB, while the OGB members pay more for their medical services.”

Of the total OGB population, 75 percent are currently enrolled in the HMO plan which presently has no deductible for the employee but those members will, effective January 1, be subject to both a deductible and coinsurance whereas most are currently subject only to fixed co-pays.

 

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The Jindal administration has announced plans to jettison 24 more positions at the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) as a cost cutting measure for the cash-strapped agency but is retaining the top two positions and an administrator hired only a month ago.

The effective date of the layoffs is Aug. 15.

The latest cuts will leave only 47 employees when the agency is relocated to the Claiborne Building basement to share office space with the Office of Risk Management. The Claiborne Building also houses the Civil Service Department, the Board of Regents, the Department of Education, the State Land Office and the Division of Administration.

The layoff plan submitted to the Department of Civil Service on June 14, said there was insufficient work to justify all 71 positions.

Affected by layoffs are eight Benefits Analyst positions, three Group Benefits Supervisory spots, one Group Benefits Administrator, seven Administrative Coordinators, an Administrative Assist, two Administrative Supervisors, one IT Application Programmer/Analyst and one Training Development Specialist.

OBG Chief Executive Officer Susan West, one of those being retained, will be making a physical move back into her old offices. She previously worked for ORM before that agency was gutted by Jindal’s grand privatization scheme and she moved over to OGB.

West, who makes $170,000, and Interim Chief Operating Officer Charles Guerra ($107,000) are not affected by the layoff nor is Elis Williams Cazes ($106,000)) was appointed as Group Benefits Administrator on June 23.

Cazes was previously employed by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana which serves as the third party administrator of the OGB Preferred Provider Operation at a cost to the state of $5.50 per month per enrollee, which computes to an amount a little north of $70 million per year.

Her position was created—and the requirements reportedly written especially to her qualifications—as the Medical/Pharmacy Administrator responsible for benefit plan management and vendor performance with the primary responsibility to “continuously monitor medical and pharmacy benefit plans to seek out modification of plans or implementation of new plans that reduce claims costs and provide efficiencies for the state and plan participants,” according to the justification given for retaining her position.

Well, we can certainly see where her position is as indispensable as West’s and Guerra’s.

All this takes place at a time whe OGB’s reserve fund has dwindled from $500 million at the time of the agency’s privatization in January 2013 to about half that amount today. Even more significant, the reserve fund is expected to dip as low as $5 million by 2016, just about the time Jindal leaves town for good.

Completing the trifecta of good news, we also have learned that health benefits for some 200,000 state employees, retirees and dependents will be slashed this year even as premiums increase.

In June, West broke the news to the OGB employees. She erroneously said the 47 remaining employees would be reassigned other duties and some might see pay reductions and that those with seniority could bump junior employees in desired positions. The Civil Service Department, however, said salaries could not be cut and bumping is no longer allowed.

Isn’t it nice to know your agency director knows the procedures?

Employees were told that letters would go out between July 1 and July 15 to those who were being laid off. On July 7, they were told the letters would be delivered by hand on Friday, July 11. None came. On the following Monday (July 14) confusion of the order of the day as Deputy Commissioner of Administration Ruth Johnson sent emails to those affected and instructed them to attend a noon meeting in the OGB board room. Upon entering the board room, each person was handed a packet that informed them that Civil Service had not approved the layoffs.

During the meeting, according to one who was there, West kept repeating, “I get this. I’ve been where you are. I get this. However, there are worse things. It’s not like losing a child. I get this.”

Way to soften the blow, Susan. You might have reminded them that the fighting between Israel and Palestine isn’t so bad because there’s also an Ebola outbreak in Africa or that while you’re losing your home to a hurricane storm surge, some people are having to endure heavy wind damage. Or better yet, take them all to a showing of The Fault in Our Stars. That’ll cheer them up.

“It was the ‘I get this’ and comparison of losing a job to losing a child that infuriated the OGB state employees,” the employee said. “This is the worst thing in their lives right  now, some are battling cancer and working; some have children and grandchildren to feed; some live paycheck to paycheck; some are taking care of the elderly and family; all have bills, rents/mortgages, school tuition, etc.”

But you really can’t blame Susan. She previously worked for ORM and was among those present when ORM Director Bud Thompson broke the privatization news to his employees by standing before them, grinning, as he said, “I still have my job.”

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Did the Jindal administration get the cart ahead of the horse when it announced the layoff of more than 100 state employees at a state hospital in central Louisiana?

As if Gov. Bobby Jindal did not have enough on his plate with his attempts to gain approval form the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for his hospital privatization plan, now the battle over the closure of one hospital has moved into the courts.

Brad Ott of New Orleans and Ed Parker of East Feliciana Parish have named the Louisiana State Senate, the State of Louisiana and the LSU Board of Supervisors in their lawsuit filed in 19th Judicial Court in Baton Rouge.

Their petition claims that the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare violated the state’s open meetings law in approving the closure of Huey P. Long Medical Center in Pineville.

Moreover, the petition says that while more than 100 classified employees are due to receive layoff notices effective June 30, the State Civil Service Commission is not scheduled to consider the LSU layoff plan until early July.

Wait. What?

Did the LSU Board of Stuporvisors really notify 100-plus employees that they no longer had jobs—before getting formal approval of the layoff plan from Civil Service?

Surely not.

The Rules of Order of the Senate, Rule 13.73, entitled “Notice of committee meetings during session,” provides in part: “Such notices shall be posted for each meeting as soon as practicable, but not later than 1 p.m. of the day preceding the meeting day.”

Rule 13.75, entitled “Meetings prohibited without notice,” provides in part: “No meeting of a committee, regularly scheduled or otherwise, shall be held unless there is full compliance with the requirements of Louisiana Senate Rule 13.73…”

The lawsuit says the notice for the April 2, 2014, meeting of the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare was revised on April 1 at 4:04 p.m. to add the consideration of SCR 48 by Sen. Gerald Long (R-Natchitoches).

SCR 48 was the Senate Concurrent Resolution that called for the closure of Huey P. Long. The resolution passed in the House Health and Welfare Committee by a 10-8 vote after nearly three hours of debate. By contrast, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee took only 10 minutes for unanimous passage.

Both petitioners say they had planned to testify in opposition to the resolution before the committee but that they were not notified that the committee would be taking up SCR 48 on April 2 because of the last minute revision to the notice of the meeting. “Consequently, both of the petitioners were effectively prevented from observing the deliberations…and expressing their concerns,” the petition said.

Wait. What?

Would a Louisiana Senate committee really do an end run around opponents to a controversial resolution in violation of the open meetings law in order to slip the resolution through?

Surely not.

But with the administration desperate to ram its hospital privatization through despite questionable funding methods, anything is possible. Jindal, in fact, has clearly demonstrated that he will go to any length to move his agenda along.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys J. Arthur Smith and Adrienne Rachel are seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief subject to the state’s open meetings law, an injunction prohibiting the state from implementing provision of SCR 48, monetary damages for violations of the state’s open meetings law, and attorney’s fees.

Smith is a relative newcomer in litigation against the state but he has sent out notice that the old ways of doing business may be changing. He has already won one battle with the Department of Education over the department’s reluctance to comply with the state’s public records laws and currently has other suits pending against the Department of Agriculture and the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control.

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Looking back on the LSU Hospital privatization fiasco, it becomes easy to point the finger of blame in several directions.

And to a lesser extent, though by no means blameless, is the Louisiana Legislature.

The legislature has been complicit in many of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s other misadventures, most notably the unorthodox—and, it turned out, unconstitutional—method of funding the governor’s school voucher program. Lawmakers fell all over themselves in 2012 in approving that little scheme that eventually blew up in everyone’s faces when the courts rejected the manner in which Act 2 diverted money from local school districts to cover the cost of private or parochial school tuition.

In fact, Jindal’s entire education reform package, passed in such haste in 2012, quickly grew to more resemble a train wreck than legitimate reform.

But the legislature, even though it never drew a line in the dust even as it capitulated to Jindal at every turn, in the final analysis, had little say-so about nor any recourse in preventing the wholesale giveaway—disguised as privatization—of the six hospitals, a maneuver that imploded Friday with the decision by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to reject the deals that would have turned over to private operators the LSU medical centers in Shreveport, Monroe, Lafayette, Houma, Lake Charles and New Orleans.

Even as Jindal’s rubber stamp LSU Board of Stuporvisers was rubber-stamping a contract containing 50 blank pages in the infamous conflict-of-interest deal handing over University Medical Center of Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center of Monroe to the Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana (BRF), legislators were voicing concerns over the warp speed at which the administration was moving to ram the agreement down the throats of an unsuspecting public.

In fact, a resolution passed unanimously in the Louisiana Senate at the urging of Sen. Ed Murray (D-New Orleans) called for the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget to agree on the privatization plans before any details were to be finalized. A similar resolution was also passed in the House.

Resolutions are just that: resolutions, with no power of law. Jindal said—and an attorney general’s opinion supported the position—that legislative approval was not required in order for the LSU Board to agree to lease the hospitals. An attorney general’s opinion, like a legislative resolution, does not carry the weight of law, but does give the governor stronger footing.

Jindal, for his part, made it abundantly clear that he would move the privatization plan forward with or without legislative support. He said the legislature did not have the authority to vote down the proposals—in effect, saying his administration was ready to ram through the proposals without regard for even a pretense of democratic procedure.

Of course he did say that he would agree to take any advice from the legislative committees into consideration. “If they propose changes to the law, we’ll look at that legislation,” he said.

But we all know what happens to those who have the temerity to disagree with Jindal, don’t we? They’re summarily teagued, as in Tommy Teague, erstwhile Director of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB), who was shown the door on April 15, 2011, when he didn’t jump on board the OGB Privatization Express quickly enough. Six months before that, it was his wife Melody was fired from her state job after she testified before the Commission for Streamlining Government. More than a dozen met the same fate, including LSU President John Lombardi and at least four legislators who found themselves suddenly removed from their committee assignments for “wrong-headed” voting.

But easily the most significant, most ill-advised, most flagrant, most unwarranted demotions were those of two respected doctors who didn’t bite when Jindal dropped his privatization bait into the water—doctors any organization would be proud to have on staff (and now, two such organizations indeed have them after in sheer frustration, they finally left Louisiana).

LSU Health Care System head Dr. Fred Cerise and Interim Louisiana Public Hospital CEO Dr. Roxanne Townsend were demoted just days apart in 2012—Cerise in late August and Townsend in early September—following a July 17 meeting at which former Secretary of health and Hospitals (DHH) Alan Levine first pitched a plan to privatize the state’s system of LSU medical centers.

Levine was at the meeting on behalf of his firm, Health Management Associates (HMA).

Also present, besides Cerise, Townsend and Levine were then-LSU President William Jenkins, DHH then-Secretary Bruce Greenstein, LSU Medical Center Shreveport Director Dr. Robert Barish, HMA CFO Kerry Curry, LSU Health Science Center Shreveport Vice Chancellor Hugh Mighty and LSU Board of Supervisors members Rolfe McCollister, Bobby Yarborough, John George (remember that name) and Scott Ballard. LSU Health Science Center New Orleans Chancellor Larry Hollier and Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans Frank Opelka participated by teleconference.

The meeting was held in the LSU president’s conference room.

Both Cerise and Townsend expressed reservations about Levine’s proposal but several members of the LSU Board of Supervisors who were present at the meeting “indicated they want LSU’s management to pursue this strategy,” according to a summary of the meeting prepared for Jenkins by Cerise.

Along with his two-page summation of the meeting, Cerise also submitted a third page containing a list of five concerns he had with the privatization plan pitched by Levine. It was that list of concerns which most likely got Cerise teagued as head of the LSU Health System via an email from Jenkins.

Levine, according to Cerise’s notes, recommended as an initial step that LSU sell its hospital in Shreveport (LSU Medical Center) and use the proceeds to “offset budget cuts for the rest of the LSU system.”

He suggested that the buyers would form a joint venture with LSU, invest capital into the facility and develop a strategy for LSU “to more aggressively compete in the hospital market.”

“The LSU board members present indicated they want LSU’s management to pursue this strategy,” Cerise’s notes said. “Greenstein stated that LSU should look to generate two years of funding to address the state funds shortfall in the system through the sale of Shreveport’s hospital.”

It was at that point that Cerise indicated his concern that such a strategy would take time to develop and that LSU would likely need to go through a competitive public procurement process and “likely legislative approvals.”

It was subsequently determined that legislative approval was not legally required; all that was required was for the legislature to be informed of the administration’s actions.

“There appeared to be agreement that LSU develop a plan that would not result in closure of hospitals,” Cerise’s notes said. “When the question was posed to the group, ‘Will LSU close hospitals,” George responded, ‘We hope not.’ The clear message was that the board members did not want LSU to proceed with any hospital closures at this point.”

Since that meeting, Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge and W.O. Moss Medical Center in Lake Charles have each closed.

“I am asking that you share this memo or at least the substance of it with the full board to ensure they are informed and that their direction to us that we delay definitive budgetary action until the end of August to better assess the likelihood of a Shreveport sale with a statewide distribution of the proceeds is clear and unambiguous,” Cerise said in his memorandum to Jenkins.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Jenkins called for the creation of a task force to include then-Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, Greenstein, George, Yarborough, McCollister, Ballard, Mighty, Barish, Hollier, Cerise and Townsend.

But in a matter of weeks, Cerise and Townsend were removed from their respective positions and reassigned and Opelka was promoted to Cerise’s position.

Last May, only months before he resigned to take a position in Texas, Cerise was invited by Sen. Murray to testify at a meeting of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee. What ensued speaks volumes about the administration’s penchant for secrecy and its intolerance for dissenting viewpoints and is illustrative of Jindal’s general arrogance and disdain for the legislative process.

The committee wanted more information about the proposed privatization of the LSU system’s hospitals and the obvious choice as the most knowledgeable witness was Dr. Fred Cerise, whose integrity is the very antithesis of Jindal’s.

So, naturally, Cerise was barred from testifying. Dissenting opinions—even intelligent, reasoned ones—are not welcomed by this governor who simply cannot bring himself to listen to the advice of others. Murray said he was told that Cerise’s request for a personal leave day to testify was denied. Murray was joined by several other senators in complaining that the denial of an information request from a lawmaker was inappropriate.

Board members, Dr. John George and Ann Duplessis, apparently with straight faces, disavowed any knowledge about Cerise’s not being able to attend the meeting and promised to look into the matter and report back to the committee.

Amazingly, lawmakers appeared to ignore that conflict of interest we alluded to earlier even as the LSU Board of Stuporvisors unanimously approved that contract. No one uttered a peep as that same Dr. John George of Shreveport, sitting as a voting member of the LSU Board, cast his vote.

The CEO of BRF, which awarded the contract for the Shreveport and Monroe medical facilities, is (trumpet fanfare) that same Dr. John George but not to worry: Jindal assured us there was no conflict of interest there.

Almost lost in all of this is the fact that more than 5,000 employees were laid off as a result of the privatizations which now have been disallowed. And for that, we look to the Louisiana Civil Service Commission as the third culprit behind Jindal and the LSU Board of Stuporvisors.

After all, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

The Civil Service Commission, which must approve any layoff plan, first rejected the administration’s privatization by a 4-3 vote but agreed to reconsider the proposal when the administration said it would provide additional information.

The next week, the board met again and commission member D. Scott Hughes of Shreveport apparently saw the light and inexplicably switched his vote from no to yes. More importantly, two other members, Dr. Sidney Tobias of LaPlace and commission Chairman David Duplantier of Mandeville, took the easy way out: they simply did not attend the meeting and the final vote that put 5,000 employees on the street was 3-2 in favor of Jindal.

Granted, commission members don’t receive a salary for their service but if Hughes could drive in from some 250 miles away—even with his yes vote—then surely commission Chairman Duplantier and Tobias could have, should have, found a way to drive in from about 75 and 50 miles out, respectively.

On a matter of such import, their no-show was nothing less than gutless and both should resign from the commission. They agreed to serve and their votes on this issue were of extreme importance—to the administration of course, but especially to those 5,000 employees whose livelihoods depended on the whims of seven five people they’d never met.

And then there’s that almost overlooked matter that’s lost in all the frenzy—one of utmost urgency: where will the state’s poor now seek medical care?

And the fingers of blame point directly at Jindal, the LSU Board of Stuporvisors, and the Civil Service Commission.

So now, after the approval of a contract with its 50 blank pages, after the termination of all those employees, after Jindal’s flimflamming his way around the legislative process, after the demotion and eventual loss of two valuable members of the medical profession, after DHH Kathy Kliebert’s assurances (as late as last week) that everything was just peachy, another wing of Jindal’s house of cards has come tumbling down.

If this is indicative of the way he runs a state—and all the evidence says it most assuredly is—imagine how, as president, he would fare in a faceoff with Vladimir Putin—even with the help of Jimmy Faircloth.

 

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