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Archive for the ‘Legislature, Legislators’ Category

Former Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) Secretary Bruce Greenstein has been indicted by the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office on nine counts of perjury stemming from a lengthy investigation of his involvement in the awarding of a $183 million contract to a company for which he once worked.

Greenstein is accused in four counts of lying under oath to the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee during his confirmation hearings of June 8 and June 17, 2011 and five counts of lying to an East Baton Rouge Parish Grand Jury on June 3 of this year.

Greenstein was appointed head of DHH in September of 2010 and was terminated by the governor’s office on May 1, 2013 when it was learned that the FBI had begun an investigation of the state’s contract with Client Network Services, Inc. (CNSI) as far back as January, 2013 when records of the state’s contract with the company were subpoenaed.

When the FBI probe became known in late March, Jindal immediately cancelled the CNSI contract and Greenstein announced his “resignation” a short time later, though he was allowed to remain on the job until May 1.

The indictment that came down on Tuesday (Sept. 23) is the first time that it was revealed that Greenstein did not resign, but was terminated and apparently allowed to announced that he had resigned.

There was no immediate word of the status of the federal investigation of CNSI and Greenstein but legal observers said Tuesday that pressure will most likely be applied to Greenstein to cooperate with the investigation.

Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell said that while the indictment is for perjury, “it really stems from the entirety of the activity in the awarding of this contract” and the grand jury will remain empaneled to do additional work on the case.

At his confirmation hearings, Greenstein first refused to tell legislators who had won the contract to provide Medicaid billing services for the state but under unrelenting pressure and scolding from legislators, as well as threats of his not being confirmed, he finally admitted that CNSI, his old employer from Washington State, was awarded the contract.

Greenstein, however, insisted that he had built a “firewall” between himself and the selection process and had not intervened in the deliberations, nor had he had any contact with CNSI officials.

It was subsequently learned from emails and text messages subpoenaed by the committee that he had had thousands of text messages and hundreds of phone calls from CNSI officials during the bidding and selection processes.

It was also learned that Greenstein had learned that CNSI was initially not qualified to bid on the contract and that he had added addendums to the bid requirements that made the company eligible.

Counts 1and 2 of the indictment cited his testimony under oath in a response to a question from Sen. Rob Marionneaux that he did not know if CNSI was unqualified under the original request for proposals and became eligible only after the addendum was added to the bid specifications.

Counts 3 and 4 involved his responses to Sen. Karen Carter Peterson about his emails to and from CNSI founder Adnan Ahmed relative to the addendum that made CNSI bid eligible.

The remaining five counts, all for lying to the grand jury, involved charges that he lied about email communications with CNSI, about a directive to DHH personnel forbidding contact with bidders and whether or not the directive applied to Greenstein himself, about his false testimony regarding legal advice he said he received from DHH staff attorney Stephen Russo, and his false testimony regarding his confrontation with DHH and administration officials prior to his June 17 Senate testimony and their efforts to learn the truth about his contacts with CNSI.

Interestingly, none of the counts was for bid-rigging or public corruption, leaving observers to speculate while waiting to see what other charges might be forthcoming as the grand jury continues its investigation.

For the full text of the indictment, go here: INDICTMENT

Of course, he has not been convicted of any of the charges as yet but if prosecutors are able to flip Greenstein, things are going to get pretty interesting around the State Capitol and in Washington State in the coming weeks and months.

And it’s not very likely that he will take the full brunt of the charges if he has committed any wrongdoing. That is, if he can implicate others further up the line.

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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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A Baton Rouge district court judge has struck down the so-called Edmonson Amendment, declaring the special retirement benefits enhancement amendment for State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and one other state trooper unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, LouisianaVoice has learned that a state police commander passed out a controversial “Hurt Feelings Report” to state troopers several months ago. https://www.google.com/search?q=hurt+feelings+report&hl=en&biw=1280&bih=585&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=ydYYVJ_gGYSuogSpwoK4Aw&sqi=2&ved=0CB0QsAQ

(For an example of “Hurt Feelings Report” forms, click on any image, then move cursor to right and then click on “View Image.”)

Edmonson may now wish to fill out one of those reports.

Judge Janice Clark of 19th Judicial District Court issued the ruling Tuesday morning in a special hearing, bringing to an official end the question of legality and propriety of Amendment 2 of Senate Bill 294, passed on the last day of the recent legislative session.

The ruling leaves egg on the collective faces of Edmonson, his Chief of Staff Charles Dupuy, who conceived of the underhanded (as in sneaky) legislation; State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), who slipped the last minute amendment past his unsuspecting colleagues in the Senate and House; Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive counsel Thomas Enright Jr., who supposedly read and blessed the bill, and Jindal, who signed it as Act 859.

The effect of the bill, which was introduced by State Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) as a bill to address disciplinary action to be taken in cases where law enforcement officers are under investigation, was to bump Edmonson’s annual retirement up by $55,000, from its current level of $79,000 to his current salary of $134,000.

Edmonson had entered into the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) several years ago at his captain’s pay grade in exchange for more take home pay at the time he signed onto DROP. Because of that decision, which is irrevocable, Edmonson was set to receive 100 percent of his captain’s salary after 30 years of service.

Riser’s amendment would have allowed Edmonson to retire instead at 100 percent of his current salary. The bill also benefitted Master Trooper Louis Boquet of Houma even though he was oblivious to events taking place in Baton Rouge.

LouisianaVoice was the first to report the real impact of SB 294 after a sharp-eyed staff member in the Division of Administration (DOA) tipped us off.

Edmonson at first defended the bill on a Baton Rouge radio talk show, saying he was entitled to the increase. He said then that at age 50 he was “forced” to sign up for DROP. That was not accurate; state employees at the time were required to decide whether or not to participate in DROP, but no one was forced into the program.

Continuing the pattern of misrepresentations, Riser said he had no knowledge of who inserted the amendment into the bill during a conference committee meeting. He later acknowledged it was he who made the insertion. Riser was one of three senators and three House members who were on the conference committee.

Jindal, of course, remained strangely quiet about the entire mess, emerging from Iowa or New Hampshire or the Fox News studios only long enough to say that the legislature should correct the matter when it convenes next spring. After making that brief policy statement, he immediately returned to his presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, retired state troopers as well as other retired state employees who had opted into DROP and later received promotions and accompanying pay raises only to have their retirements frozen at the level they were being paid at the time of their entering DROP, went on a rampage with several retired troopers offering to file suit if the State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) Board did not.

At a special meeting of the LSPRS Board earlier this month, it was learned that Dupuy had initiated contact with the board’s actuary several weeks before the session ended to discuss the amendment which he obviously intended to have inserted into the bill in the closing hours of the session. That pretty much shot down any deniability on Riser’s part. And Riser would certainly never have made such an attempt without Jindal’s blessings.

The board, meanwhile, was advised by an attorney with experience in pension plans that it had no standing as a board to file such a suit but board member and State Treasurer John Kennedy immediately announced his intentions to do so as a private citizen.

Meanwhile, State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) saw a way to give his campaign for 6th District congressman to succeed U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy a boost and quickly filed his own suit.

It was Claitor’s suit on which the hearing on a motion for declaratory judgment served as the basis for Judge Clark’s ruling on Tuesday.

Neither Edmonson nor Boquet nor the LSPRS Board opposed the motion.

Following the hearing, Kennedy said the bill was unconstitutional on both the state and federal levels—on several different legal points. “Not only was it unconstitutional,” he said, “it was wrong.” https://www.dropbox.com/sh/erw91d3j3ivkis9/AABhtU96O_u88tVSYLfIQqPra?dl=0#lh:null-IMG_8155.MOV

“This law was patently unconstitutional,” Kennedy said. “Now it’s null and void. This is a win for retirees as well as taxpayers across Louisiana.”

In a statement released after the ruling, Kennedy said one of his objections was that the law would have drawn the enhanced benefits from an experience account that funds cost-of-living increases for retired state troopers and their families.

He testified in the hearing that Louisiana’s four retirement systems already have an unfunded accrued liability (UAL—the gap between the systems’ assets and liabilities) of $19 billion, the sixth worst UAL in the nation.

“This is not about personalities,” he said. “This was about fairness. Regardless of whether you’re a prince or a pauper, you should not receive special treatment.”

The “Hurt Feelings Report” forms, intended to intimidate or demean harassment victims or others who feel they have been slighted or who feel they have been made victims of racial, sexual, or other forms of discrimination, are parodies that attack otherwise genuine concerns of bullying in the workplace.

The commander who passed the forms out to his troopers obviously thought it was a hilarious joke and a great way to deal with potential complaints but officials in Buffalo, Wyoming didn’t think they were so funny.

A 13-year veteran Buffalo High School football coach who passed out the “survey” to his players was forced to resign after his actions became public. The survey listed several options as reasons for hurt feelings, including “I am a queer,” “I am a little bitch,” and “I have woman like hormones.” It asked for the identity of the “little sissy filing report” and for his “girly-man signature,” plus the “real-man signature” of the person accused of causing hurt feelings.

Coach Pat Lynch, as is always the case when those in positions of authority are caught doing something incredibly stupid, offered a letter of resignation in which he said, “I would like to apologize for my lack of judgment and the poor choice….” (You know the words to this worn out song by now. We’ve heard them from politicians like David Vitter, athletes like Ray Rice, even ministers like Jimmy Swaggart.)

So now we have a state police commander who has attempted by distribution of this document to ridicule—in advance—anyone under his command who feels he or she has been the victim of discrimination or harassment and to discourage them from filing formal complaints.

There appears to be no level of stupidity to which some people will not stoop.

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Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) member Walter Lee has been indicted by a state grand jury and the FBI is investigating State Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray)—both for double billing for travel.

Investigators may want to take a look at the expense records of State Rep. and Shreveport mayoral candidate Patrick Williams (D-Shreveport).

Lee’s indictment by a DeSoto Parish grand jury accuses him of the felony theft of $3,968 in fuel expenses and $1,578 in lodging in meals charged to both BESE and to the DeSoto Parish School Board at a time when Lee was simultaneously serving as DeSoto School Superintendent and as a member of BESE.

A state audit used as the basis of Lee’s indictment said he collected travel expenses from BESE for attending state board meetings even though he used a parish school system credit card to pay for those expenses and failed to reimburse the school system after receiving payment from BESE.

DeSoto District Attorney Richard Johnson, Jr. said Lee also terminated a lease early on a vehicle which cost the school system around $10,000 and then got a substantial discount on the purchase of another vehicle shortly thereafter.

Williams’ expense reimbursements, however, more closely resemble those of his colleague in the House.

Harrison has been ordered by federal investigators to produce travel expense records after the New Orleans Times-Picayune revealed in a lengthy investigative series that Harrison was reimbursed more than $50,000 by the House for travel in his district from 2010 to 2013—travel that he had also charged to his campaign.

House reimbursement records and campaign expense records reveal that in 2012 alone, Williams systematically doubled his campaign and the House for more than $4,000 for expenses that included postage, subscriptions to the Shreveport Times, travel to and from Baton Rouge, hotel accommodations in Washington, D.C., airport parking, cab fare, and air travel.

LouisianaVoice was alerted to Williams’ expense payments by former Shreveport attorney Michael Wainwright who now lives in North Carolina.

Wainwright said Williams accepts campaign contributions which then pays “thousands of dollars” in travel and other expenses. “Rep. Williams then bills the taxpayer for those same expenses (and) then keeps the reimbursement checks. He has converted the money to his personal use.”

Wainwright said the practice “is conduct which seems to fall squarely within the definition of theft,” which he said is defined under Louisiana Criminal Law as “the misappropriation or taking of anything of value which belongs to another, either without the consent of the other to the misappropriation or taking, or by means of fraudulent conduct, practices or representation.”

He provided us with a detailed itemization which we verified through our own check of Williams’ campaign expense report and House reimbursement records.

The following list includes the month of the House expense report, the amount and purpose. In the case of each expense item listed, Williams also billed his campaign:

  • January: $113.73—Purchase Power Postage;
  • February: $52.88—Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • April: $85.51—Pitney Bowes Postage;
  • May: $53.95—Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • May: $107.99—Pitney Bowes Postage;
  • June: $65.68—Pitney Bowes Postage;
  • August: $17.98—Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • October: $37.04—Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • October: $85.48—Pitney Bowes Postage;
  • November: $17.98- Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • December: $17.98—Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • November 5: $70.00—Fuel & Travel to Baton Rouge;
  • November 29: $50.32—Fuel & Travel to Baton Rouge;
  • December 4-8: $40.00—Shreveport Airport Parking;
  • December 4-7: $838.16—Hilton Hotel, Washington, D.C. (Campaign billed for entire $912.71 amount);
  • December 4-8: $169.94—Washington Travel Expense (Note: Rep. Williams was paid $745.00 in per diem expenses by the State of Louisiana while attending a NCSL conference in Washington, DC Williams also charged his campaign account $169.94 for the following per diem expenses related to this trip: Delta Airlines Travel baggage ($25), Supreme Airport Shuttle ($13), Hilton Hotel ($103), Meals ($28.44);
  • February 1: $158.00—Holiday Inn, Lafayette;
  • March 12-16: $197.00—In Session Fuel & Mileage (This amount was billed to his campaign while the House paid $291.38);
  • March 17-20: $327.04—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75);
  • March 31-April 13: $373.09—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75);
  • April 14-27: $335.00—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75);
  • April 28-May 11: $257.00—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75);
  • May 12-25: $262.12—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75)
  • May 26-June 4: $146.00—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75);

This is the same Rep. Patrick Williams who in 2011 authored House Bill 277 which would have required the posting of the Ten Commandments in the State Capitol. There’s no word as to whether his bill proposed deleting the Eighth Commandment.

 

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(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

My grandfather had a favorite expression he was fond of saying: “The stuck pig squeals the loudest.”

That may well explain the sudden onslaught of reassurances emanating from the Jindal administration in the form of press releases and op-eds, all telling us that our benevolent governor, expert that he is on health care, is taking care of and we shouldn’t worry about all those looming increased costs and reduced benefits.

But as it turns out, we may be about to see a new development to the controversy swirling around the proposed premium increases and benefit cuts for members of the Office of Group Benefits.

And just in case you might be wondering why your friendly legislator hasn’t been up in arms over the radical changes in health coverage being proposed for some 230,000 state employees, retirees and their dependents through the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) before now, there’s a reason.

If some similar action were taken to adversely affect their per diem, travel, and other perks, it would be quite another story. They’d have been squealing long before now.

But you see, 261 House members and staff and 151 senators and staff are not members of OGB and therefore, don’t have any skin in the game (my grandfather would have said they don’t have a dog in the hunt) being played by the administration and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana.

So where do those 412 people get their health coverage?

LSU First.

And now two of those legislators who earlier fell out of favor with Gov. Bobby Jindal when they questioned the wisdom of privatizing OGB at the outset, Reps. Joe Harrison (R-Gray) and Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) are back and the governor can’t be happy about it.

And Henry is even putting out feelers about moving all 230,000 members of OGB to LSU First, saying it is something “we should explore for employees to get into since the Office of Group Benefits is fiscally unsound.”

Meanwhile, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles), normally a wad of putty in Jindal’s hands, has suddenly grown something akin to a spine and called for a special hearing on Sept. 24 to take up the OGB changes. Other legislators also beginning make demands of the administration to have someone present to answer questions about the radical changes.

State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite), a candidate for governor, said he wanted administration representatives questioned under oath.

It was Edwards who originally requested that Kleckley call a meeting of legislators to discuss OGB. “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.”

“I feel vindicated,” Harrison was quoted as saying by the New Orleans Times Picayune in reference to the depletion of the OGB trust fund which has shrunk from $540 million to less than half that since Jindal’s privatization plan went into effect. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/09/louisiana_legislators_have_a_h.html#incart_river “Exactly what I said was going to happen is now happening,” Harrison said.

And Henry is even putting out feelers about moving all 230,000 members of OGB to LSU First, saying it is something “we should explore for employees to get into since the Office of Group Benefits is fiscally unsound.”

Jindal had Henry and Harrison removed from their respective committee assignments when the two refused to go along with Jindal’s legislative agenda during the 2013 legislative session.

Administration officials, in an attempt to discourage a mass exodus from OGB said state employees now in OGB may not find the LSU First plans to be a better option, invoking such terms as “better service,” “strike a balance,” “right sizing of benefits,” “wider range of options,” and “it’s all the fault of Obamacare.”

So, just what is LSU first, anyway?

LSU First is the health coverage offered employees throughout the LSU system and back near the end of the Mike Foster administration, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was approved that allowed legislators and legislative staff members to opt out of OGB in favor of LSU First.

Senate 2003

House of Representatives 2003

The plan presently is not available to employees of Louisiana’s other institutions of higher learning or civil service employees other than those working for the Legislature.

So, why would anyone make the switch?

The answer to that is simple: Even before the pending revamp of OGB which will prove far more costly to members, LSU First was vastly superior in the benefits it offers. And now, with the increased premiums, higher deductibles and co-pays for OGB members (an overall cost increase of 47 percent), the contrast between the two plans is even more stark. http://www.lsufirst.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/2014_LSU_First_SPD.pdf

http://www.lsufirst.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/2014-SBC-Opt1.pdf

LSU established the plan for the fiscal year July 1, 2002 through June 30, 2003, adopting the “Definity Health Model Health Coverage Plan,” and the House and Senate climbed on board a year later, on July 1, 2003. The original MOU was signed in May of 2003 by then-LSU President William Jenkins, House Speaker Charles DeWitt, Jr. (D-Alexandria), and Senate President John Hainkel, Jr. (R-New Orleans).

No sooner said than done. The ink wasn’t even dry on the signatures on the MOU when legislators and staff members started a mass migration to the LSU plan. Additionally, civil service workers scattered throughout state government who were fortunate enough to have spouses working for LSU also switched.

The language in the MOU was such that any legislator who left the House or Senate and moved on to another state office or appointment was allowed to retain his or her coverage under LSU First. That would include, for example, people like former Gov. Mike Foster, Commissioner of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Troy Hebert, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, and former House Speaker Jim Tucker.

LouisianaVoice made an inquiry of the LSU administrative types as to who pays the employer portion of the premiums and whether or not the governor, the commissioner of administration, and cabinet members were eligible for member in LSU First.

What we got back was less than satisfactory but entirely typical of the mindset of this administration. “We have fulfilled your public record request and any further questions can be directed to our University Relations office,” wrote Stephanie Tomlinson, coordinator, LSU Finance and Administration.

In other words, if one asks a simple question and does not specifically request documents or records, he is out of luck. This administration has no intention of helping someone seeking information and would prefer to toss obstacles in the path of transparency.

But we can play this game, too. We replied with the following email:

Okay, we’ll try it this way:

Please provide any and all documents and/or public records that identify all eligible members of LSU First medical coverage, including the governor’s office, Division of Administration and the various cabinet positions.

Please provide documentation and/or any and all public records that provides a breakdown of premium payments for LSU First, including employer/employee contributions and including which employer, i.e. the state, the House or Senate or LSU, pays the employer contributions.

Now that we have requested actual documents/records, we’ll see how they respond.

We did glean from the MOU, however, that the Legislature most likely is responsible for paying 70 percent of the premiums for legislators, legislative retirees, and staff members.

Meanwhile, Jindal communications officer Mike Reed, a native of Boston (Jindal apparently cannot find qualified Louisiana residents for these jobs), churned out a fact sheet that Commissioner of Administration Kristy Kreme Nichols proudly published verbatim as her own work as via an op-ed piece in today’s (Thursday’s) Baton Rouge Advocate under the heading Changes Good for Insurance Users, Taxpayers. (A hint, Kristy: U.S. Democratic Sen. John Walsh of Montana recently dropped out of his race for re-election after allegations of plagiarism.)

As for Reed, we can only hope that if he returns to Boston he doesn’t offer his services to the Red Sox. Mired in last place in the American League East, the Sox have enough problems without taking on another pitch man who can’t seem to find the strike zone.

Reed’s press release was directed at a recent well-researched column by political writer Jeremy Alford: For Health Care Woes, Jindal Prescribes Confusion. http://lapolitics.com/2014/09/for-health-care-woes-jindal-prescribes-confusion/

Reed sent the “fact sheet,” entitled Setting the Record Straight: LaPolitics Column on Healthcare reform in Louisiana, to state legislators on Wednesday. The four page letter was peppered with what Reed smugly, if inaccurately, described as “myth” followed by “Facts.”

Of course, being from Boston, it goes without saying that Reed is intimately familiar with all the nuances of Louisiana politics, including the sordid history of the administration’s recent health care issues. These include Jindal’s sticking his nose into the OGB operations and firing Director Tommy Teague who had taken the agency from a $60 million deficit to a $500 million fund balance, closing down or giving away state hospitals, the governor’s refusal of Medicaid expansion which led directly to problems at Baton Rouge General which last week announced it was closing its emergency room, forcing the administration to pump $18 million into the private hospital to keep its ER open to indigent patients forced to travel to the mid-city facility after closure of state-run Earl K. Long Hospital.

Undaunted, Reed waded into the fray, dutifully blaming everything on Obamacare just as his absentee boss would have him do. And Kristy Kreme eagerly published the tome under her byline.

https://webmail.east.cox.net/do/mail/message/view?msgId=INBOXDELIM16848

The whole thing evokes images to go with one of our favorite Sinatra songs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1fVQGESUTo

Bobby Jindal (Gov. R-L)

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If anyone has any hopes that the matter of the Edmonson Amendment will be resolved Thursday when the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) Board meets, it might be worth your while to consider a few developments in the Department of Public Safety (DPS) on the watch of Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson, aka “Precious.”

We have already examined the placing of “consultant” Kathleen Sill on the state payroll and paying her $437,000 plus $12,900 in air travel for 21 flights for her between Baton Rouge and her Columbia, S.C. home.

And we told you about DPS Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux’s taking a $46,000 cash payout incentive to retire at her $92,000 per year salary as Deputy Undersecretary, plus about $13,000 in payment for 300 hours of accrued annual leave and then re-hiring two days later—with a promotion to Undersecretary and at a higher salary of $118,600—while keeping the incentive payment and annual leave payment.

We even told you about then-Commissioner of Administration Angelé Davis ordering her to repay the money but resigning before she could follow through on her instructions. Under her successor, Paul Rainwater, the matter was quietly forgotten.

But we didn’t tell you about Boudreaux’s son-in-law Matthew Guthrie who, while employed in an offshore job, was simultaneously on the payroll for seven months (from April 2, 2012 to Nov. 9, 2012) as a $25 per hour “specialist” for the State Police Oil Spill Commission.

Nor did we tell you about John W. Alario, the son of Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego) who serves as the $95,000 a year director of the DPS Liquefied Petroleum Gas Commission. (We had earlier told you about his wife, Dionne Alario, who was hired in November o 2013 at a salary of $56,300 to work out of her Westwego home supervising state police personnel in Baton Rouge—something of a logistics problem, to say the least.)

Or about Danielle Rainwater, daughter of former Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, who works as a “specialist” for State Police.

And then there are the spouses brought into the fold.

Jason Starnes has benefitted from two quick promotions since 2009 as his salary jumped from $59,800 to $81,250, an increase of almost 36 percent.

As if that were not enough, his wife Tammy was brought in from another agency on Jan. 13 of this year as an Audit Manager at a salary of $92,900. So not only does she now make nearly $11,700 a year more than her husband, she also is in charge of monitoring the agency’s financial transactions, including those of her husband.

In January of 2008, just before Edmonson was named Superintendent of State Police by Gov. Bobby Jindal, State Trooper Charles Dupuy was pulling down $80,500. Today, as Edmonson’s Chief of Staff, he makes $122,200, a bump of nearly $42,000, or 52 percent. Dupuy, it should be noted, is the Edmonson staffer who originated the drive to push the Edmonson Amendment through the Legislature on the last day of the session that gives his boss a $55,000 pension boost because the amendment allows Edmonson to revoke his decision to freeze his retirement at 100 percent of his $79,000 captain’s salary some 15 years or so ago to 100 percent of his current colonel’s salary of $134,000.

Kelly McNamara and Dupuy, both troopers, met at work and eventually married and Kelly Dupuy’s star began ascending almost immediately. Her salary has gone from $65,000 in 2009 to $80,600 today

Doug Cain serves as State Police Public Affairs Commander at $79,000 per year but the position appears to have been created especially for him, according to payroll records.

State Civil Service records for most promotions indicate whether or not the person being promoted is moving into a slot previously occupied by someone else. In Cain’s case the “Former Incumbent” block on the promotion form is blank indicating there was no one in that position prior to Cain’s being named to it.

The same is true for Edmonson’s brother Paul Edmonson.

On Sept. 7, 2011, Paul Edmonson was promoted from lieutenant to Captain, filling the spot previously held by Scott Reggio. On Oct. 10, 2013, Paul Edmonson was again promoted, this time to the rank of major. This time however, he was promoted into a spot in which there was no incumbent, indicating that the position was created especially for his benefit.

His rise has been nothing less than meteoric. Since December of 2006, less than eight years ago, he has gone from the rank of sergeant to lieutenant to captain to major at warp speed and his pay rose accordingly, from $57,500 to $93,000 a year, a 62 percent increase—all under the watchful eye of his brother.

And keep in mind all this transpired while the rank and file state troopers—and other state employees—were having to make do without pay raises.

As his reward for taking care of his people in such a noble way, Dupuy and State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) conspired, along with Gov. Bobby Jindal, to sneak the amendment to Senate Bill 294 during the closing minutes of the session that allowed Mike Edmonson a “do-over” on his decision to enter the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which froze his retirement at his pay at that time.

The major problem with that little plan is that it leaves other state troopers and state employees who similarly opted to enter DROP and then received significant promotions or raises out in the cold because the amendment does not afford the same opportunity for them.

Accordingly, a group of retired state troopers have indicated their willingness to litigate the matter should the LSPRS board not decide to challenge the amendment in court themselves.

And it’s not at all likely the board will take that decisive step—for two reasons, neither of them sound.

First, Florida attorney Robert Klausner, an authority on pension law, advised that the amendment is unconstitutional and that the board should simply ignore it and refused to pay the increased pension should Edmonson and one other trooper caught up in the language’s net apply for the higher benefits.

The board would have a difficult time justifying such action, however, because it is bound by the Louisiana Constitution to comply with laws passed by the Legislature. The only recourse to that action would be to file a lawsuit formally challenging the constitutionality of the amendment. To ignore it would solve nothing, several attorneys and State Treasurer John Kennedy, a member of the board, have said.

Second, the LSPRS board is stacked heavily with those who are unquestionably Edmonson and Jindal loyalists. It was Jindal who signed the bill into law as Act 859 and his Commissioner of Administration Kristy Kreme Nichols is an ex-officio member of the board, assigning as her designee Andrea Hubbard. No way she’s going against the administration.

State Sen. Elbert Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas), chairman of the Senate Retirement Committee, is nothing short of wishy-washy as evidenced by his constant switching from Republican to Democrat and back to Republican. He is Jindal’s lap dog and would cut his throat before invoking the governor’s ire and potential endorsement for lieutenant governor.

Dupuy is a member as well but should be run off by a mean, biting dog if he does not abstain from voting for his obvious conflict of interest as Edmonson’s Chief of Staff as well as the one who originally pushed the amendment.

A couple of other members are active troopers and they are a lock for bucking litigation since their boss will be watching and waiting for any sign of weakness or betrayal.

The only certain vote in favor of litigation will come from Kennedy when the board convenes Thursday at 3 p.m. in the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System LASERS) Building at 4501 United Plaza Blvd. in Baton Rouge.

And unless Chicken Little was correct about the sky falling, Kennedy’s will be a lone voice when the dust settles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAQs

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

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

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

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

HHS_2013_SNPS_35_Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the LFO report here: LFO_OGBReport_August_2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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