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Archive for the ‘Teague’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our October fund raiser enters its final five days and we still need assistance to help us offset the cost of pursuing legal action against an administration that prefers to conduct its business behind closed doors and out of sight of the people to whom they are supposed to answer.

We also are launching an ambitious project that will involve considerable time and expense. If Gov. Bobby Jindal does seek higher office as it becomes more and more apparent that he will, the people of America need to know the real story of what he has done to our state and its people. Voters in the other 49 states need to know not Jindal’s version of his accomplishments as governor, but the truth about:

  • What has occurred with CNSI and Bruce Greenstein;
  • How Jindal squandered the Office of Group Benefits $500 million reserve fund;
  • The lies the administration told us two years ago about how state employee benefits would not be affected by privatization;
  • The lies about how Buck Consultants advised the administration to cut health care premiums when the company’s July report said just the opposite;
  • How Jindal attempted unsuccessfully to gut state employee retirement benefits;
  • How Jindal attempted to sneak a significant retirement benefit into law for the Superintendent of State Police;
  • How Jindal appointees throughout state government have abused the power entrusted to them;
  • How Jindal has attempted a giveaway plan for state hospitals that has yet to be approved by the federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS);
  • How regulations have been skirted so that Jindal could reward supporters with favorable purchases and contracts;
  • How Jindal fired employees and demoted legislators for the simple transgression of disagreeing with him;
  • How Jindal has refused Medicaid expansion that has cost hundreds of thousands of Louisiana’s poor the opportunity to obtain medical care;
  • How Jindal has gutted appropriations to higher education in Louisiana, forcing tuition increases detrimental to students;
  • How Jindal has attempted to systematically destroy public education in Louisiana;
  • How Jindal has refused federal grants that could have gone far in developing internet services for rural areas and high speed rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans;
  • How Jindal has rewarded major contributors with appointments to key boards and commissions;
  • How Jindal attempted to use the court system to persecute an agency head who refused to knuckle under to illegal demands from the governor’s office;
  • How Jindal has manipulated the state budget each year he has been in office in a desperate effort to smooth over deficit after deficit;
  • And most of all, how Jindal literally abandoned the state while still governor so that he could pursue his quixotic dream of becoming president.

To this end, LouisianaVoice Editor Tom Aswell will be spending the next several months researching and writing a book chronicling the Jindal administration. Should Jindal become a presidential contender or even if he is selected as another candidate’s vice presidential running mate, such a book could have a national impact and even affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

This project is going to take time and involve considerable expense as we compile our research and prepare the book for publication in time for the 2016 election.

To accomplish this, we need your help.

If you are not seeing the “Donate” button, it may be because you are receiving our posts via email subscription. To contribute by credit card, please click on this link to go to our actual web page and look for the yellow Donate button: http://louisianavoice.com/

If you prefer not to conduct an internet transaction, you may mail a check to:

Capital News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727-0922

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Liz Murrill, the texting attorney who advised Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols that the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) was not necessary because the changes in the state’s Office of Group Benefits (OGB) plans did not meet the legal definition of “rule,” is gone.

Murrill sparred verbally with legislators during the Sept. 25 hearing on the proposed changes to OGB coverage of state employees and retirees by the House Appropriations Committee, telling them the APA was unnecessary in order that the Division of Administration (DOA) might implement huge increases to co-pays and deductibles that OGB members would be required to pay.

Throughout emotional testimony by OGB members who said their health care expenses might exceed their monthly pensions and others who related problems experienced with MedImpact, the state’s $350 million pharmacy benefit manager, Murrill could be seen texting while seated immediately behind witnesses. One observer said virtually the entire DOA staff sitting in the audience was also texting during testimony but only Murrill was constantly visible on the video being streamed live via the Internet.

But as embarrassing as that should have been to the administration, it was probably her advice that the APA was legally unnecessary.

Even an attorney general’s opinion released on Sept. 23, two days before the Appropriations Committee hearing failed to convince Murrill of her shaky legal position.

The opinion said the Jindal administration simply ignored the APA which requires a certain amount of publicity, public comment and legislative review before policy changes can be adopted.

But Murrill was quick to voice her difference with Assistant Attorney General Emily Andrews who authored the opinion at the request of State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite).

“We fundamentally disagree that the schedule of benefits meets the legal definition of ‘rule’ in the APA,” she said, “because it does not apply to the general public or any subset of the regulated public.”

Both Nichols and Murrill were grilled by a procession of legislators at the hearing, many of whom were not members of the Appropriations Committee but nevertheless had questions they wanted to ask on behalf of constituents.

At the times the exchanges became tinged with poorly concealed animosity as Nichols and Murrill fielded questions from one legislator after another once OGB members were finished with their testimony. The pair allowed their contempt for legislators surface from time to time while Legislators let it be known that they were losing patience with Jindal and his minions.

Murrill, while at the witness table, adamantly refused to concede that APA was required to be adhered to but on Tuesday (Oct. 14), once DOA had been called out on the matter and Murrill was out of the picture, APA notices of intent began going out toe legislators.

Once away from the table and back in the audience, she resumed her texting.

Now she has all the time she needs for texting.

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When Jeff Skilling took over as President and Chief Operating Officer of Enron in June of 1990, he did so only after insisting that the company convert from conventional accounting principles to a method preferred by his former employer, McKinsey & Co.

In 2001, hedge fund manager Richard Grubman said to Skilling, “You are the only financial institution that can’t produce a balance sheet or cash flow statement with their earnings.” By October of that same year, Enron had begun its death spiral in a historic collapse that would pull the giant accounting firm Arthur Andersen down with it.

The key to Enron’s failure was the mark-to-market accounting method, where anticipated revenues and profits are entered into the company’s books before they are ever received. The system allowed Enron to conceal losses and to inflate profits for nearly 11 years before its house of cards came crashing down.

On Thursday (Oct. 8), nearly seven years into his administration, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana) rolled out a new accounting formula with an alarmingly familiar ring to it.

Jindal, like Skilling, is a McKinsey alumnus.

Commissioner of Administration/Surrogate Gov. Kristy Kreme Nichols announced that the state, instead of having a deficit of $141 million as claimed by State Treasurer John Kennedy, will suddenly have a surplus of $178.5 million, a gaping difference of $319.5 million.

Nichols did not reveal how the $178.5 million was arrived at but Kennedy said the administration is switching to a cash balance form of accounting instead of the modified accrual basis employed by state governments. “If we use the methodology we have always used,” he said, “we don’t have a surplus. We have a $141 million deficit.

“The commissioner says the calculation has been inaccurate for years and it needs to be changed,” he said. “They have to explain why we have been doing it wrong all these years and why the Revenue Estimating Conference is doing it wrong.”

Nichols, an appointed state employee, was less than deferential to Kennedy, a statewide elected official when she sniped back at Kennedy, saying, “I’m surprised the treasurer is not reporting this.” She added that Kennedy is obligated to report available revenue. “He should probably do a review of the accounts to ensure there are no more outstanding revenues he is not reporting.”

Kennedy and Jindal have been at odds for years over fiscal policy, so it was no surprise to see Kristy Kreme, with her super-sized ego, get a little mouthy with the state treasurer. After all, she bolted from a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the Office of Group Benefits on Sept. 25 to take her daughter to a One Direction boy band concert at the New Orleans Smoothie King Arena where she watched from the comfort of Jindal’s executive suite.

Just as Enron misrepresented its finances for years, it now appears that the Jindal administration may be attempting the same tactic, prompting one political observer to say, “If cooking the books isn’t malfeasance, what is? The bond rating agencies and others rely on the CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report), where the year-end position is officially reported in decision making and they are not going to like this.”

Another Jindal critic asked rhetorically, “What happens when a state ends a fiscal year with a deficit of $141 million but the administration of the day pretends that there is actually a surplus of $178 million? I don’t think there is any precedent for such a thing ever happening anywhere. This is starting to sound like Enron!”

Odd as it may seem to make that comparison, the similarities between Jindal and Enron run much deeper than the latest developments surrounding the new accounting methods. Here are some points about Enron lifted from The Smartest Guys in the Room: the Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron (Penguin Books, 2003), a probing book by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind about the failed energy company: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/113576.The_Smartest_Guys_in_the_Room

  • The Deutsche Bank once described Enron as “the industry standard for excellence.” Jindal boasted of instituting the “gold standard for ethics” in Louisiana.
  • When the chief accounting officer of Enron Wholesale expressed concern about wholesale electricity sales, she was reassigned. When another employee questioned Skilling on his claim that Enron was going to make $500 million, she was laid off that same day. When state employees or legislators complain or do not vote with the administration, they are teagued.
  • Pollster Frank Luntz said instability and chaos were defining features at Enron and the six company reorganizations in just 18 months were a “running joke” and that Enron’s lack of discipline was “destructive and demoralizing.” Jindal’s penchant for reorganization and reform has created a similar atmosphere within state government.
  • Enron sold assets and booked the one-time proceeds as recurring earnings. Nearly 40 percent of Enron’s 1998 and 1999 earnings came from sales of assets rather than from ongoing operations. Jindal over the past several years has sold state property, buildings, and entire agencies and turned state hospitals over to private entities.
  • Both Skilling and Jindal are alumni of the blue-chip consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., which wrote the Enron business plan and as far back as 1986, advised AT&T there was no future in the market for cell phones. McKinsey also was an advocate of mark-to-market accounting practices.
  • Both Skilling and Jindal thought—and think—like a consultant. Skilling felt that a business should be able to declare profits at the moment of the signing of an agreement that would earn those profits. But just because traders were reporting earnings under mark-to-market accounting, it did not necessarily follow that the money was in hand. See this link: http://theadvocate.com/news/10494146-123/jindal-budget-surplus-questioned
  • A Wall Street banker said of Skilling: “He’s either compulsively lying or he’s refusing to recognize the truth.” Another banker worried that Enron executives were not carrying out their fiduciary duties and questioned “sweetheart deals” negotiated by them.
  • Skilling believed that social policies designed to temper the markets were “wrongheaded” and counterproductive. “Wrongheaded” has been a favorite term invoked by Jindal whenever he has suffered setbacks at the hands of the courts on issues ranging from education reform to a revamp of state retirement plans.
  • When asked a question he didn’t like, Skilling, in a tactic learned from his days at McKinsey, responded by dumping “a ton of data on you.” Jindal’s one outstanding skill is to spew statistics and factoids in rapid-fire fashion that can overwhelm and confuse challengers.
  • Skilling, like Jindal, was considered brilliant and extremely articulate. He, like Jindal, always seemed to have the right answer and whenever he was asked about problems it was always someone else’s fault.
  • Skilling displayed no remorse for his own actions, nor did he have any sense that he hired the wrong people or emphasized the wrong values. (See above.)
  • Enron founder Ken Lay saw himself as a business visionary, much as Jindal portrays himself as a policy guru. Lay traveled the world to offer his wisdom on everything from energy deregulation to corporate ethics to the future of business. (Ditto)
  • At the end, Enron employees’ accounts were frozen even as top executives were walking away with fortunes.
  • Efforts by Enron and Arthur Andersen to avoid reporting $500 million in losses “only pushed the problem further off and added another tangle to the fragile web of accounting deceptions.” Do we really need to elaborate here?
  • Enron executives accepted the argument that wealth and power demanded no sense of broader responsibility which in turn led them to embrace the notion that ethical behavior requires nothing more than avoiding the explicitly illegal, that refusing to see the bad things happening in front of you makes you innocent and that telling the truth is the same thing as making sure no one can prove you lied.
  • Enron’s mission was nothing more than a cover story for massive fraud, much as Jindal’s administration is being exposed almost daily as a sham. The story of Enron, like that of Jindal, was a story of human weakness, of hubris and greed and rampant self-delusion, of ambition run amok, of a business model that didn’t work and of smart people who believed their next gamble would cover their last disaster—and most of all, of people who couldn’t—or wouldn’t—admit they were wrong.
  • Enron once aspired to be “the world’s greatest company” but rather became a symbol for all that was wrong with corporate America, exposing Lay’s flaws as a businessman that could no longer be hidden behind Enron’s impressive but misleading façade and Skilling’s glib rhetoric.
  • Despite Enron’s efforts to camouflage the truth, there was more than enough in the public record to raise the hackles of any self-respecting analyst (read: reporter). Analysts (read: reporters) are supposed to dive into a company’s financial records, examine footnotes and even elbow their way past accounting obfuscations. Their job, in short, is to analyze (re: report).

In the end, of course, Enron crumpled under the weight of its own corruption and mismanagement, destroying thousands of lives and even taking down one of the big five accounting firms in the process.

The Jindal administration with each passing day, with every revelation of some new scandal (the Edmonson Amendment, CNSI, the Murphy Painter fiasco, et al) and with each new flawed policy (the Office of Group Benefits debacle), is looking more and more like a train wreck that will adversely affect Louisiana citizens for years to come.

Just call it Enron East.

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You have to hand it to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Kreme Nichols. When she has something to do, she is completely One Direction-al about it.

As the minutes ticked by during the House Appropriations Committee’s seven-hour hearing on the Office of Group Benefits on Sept. 25, and as Division of Administration (DOA) Executive Counsel Liz Murrill and the rest of the DOA pack occupied themselves by texting during heart-wrenching testimony from those who will be adversely affected by rising deductibles and co-pays, Kristy fidgeted.

She continued to fidget and to be as evasive as possible with her answers to questions from legislators until she suddenly “got an important phone call” and left the committee room. She did not return before the meeting finally adjourned.

In fact, it was not a telephone call that pulled her from the meeting at all.

One Direction, the latest boy band to make little girls squeal, was playing in the Smoothie King Arena in New Orleans and Kristy and her daughter (and possibly some of her daughter’s friends) watched the concert from the special Arena luxury suite assigned to Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana).

Kristy Kreme at the Smoothie King. Has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?

Kristy Kreme could have told the audience the truth. Certainly OGB members, mostly retirees, who had traveled from all over the state to testify and to get answers would have understood that a teeny bopper band was more important to Kristy Kreme than the medical coverage of 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents.

But you see, telling the truth simply is not her style.

Witness her repeated claims that the OGB $500 million reserve fund was reduced to only about half that amount because of Obama Care and rising health care costs. She made that claim repeatedly, blaming those two factors and those alone for the drawdown of the reserve fund when everyone on the committee and those in the audience knew better.

Everyone in attendance knew that three consecutive years of premium reductions in the face of rising costs was the reason the fund has been all but depleted. She would never admit that even though everyone knew that Jindal lowered the rates so that the state’s 75 percent contribution to member premiums would be reduced also, thus leaving money that would have gone to premium payments for Jindal to use to plug gaping holes in his budget.

Remember when Kristy Kreme’s predecessor, former Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater wrote that comforting letter to OGB members in April of 2011 in an effort to debunk all those rumors about increased costs and raids on the reserve fund? No? Well, we have it right here: https://www.groupbenefits.org/portal/pls/portal30/ogbweb.get_latest_news_file?p_doc_name=4F444D324D5441344C6C4245526A51344E7A413D

In that letter, Rainwater said members would continue to receive quality service and coverage, benefits would NOT change, and OGB’s administrative oversight would continue, “securing the continued success of all the plans.”

“As for the allegation that OGB’s surplus will somehow be ‘stolen,’” Rainwater continued, “let me be absolutely clear: this claim is categorically untrue.”

But that was yesterday, as Chad and Jeremy sang back in the 60s, and yesterday’s gone. Let us return to the AWOL Kristy Kreme.

Even as she was invoking her super powers to convince legislators and audience members that she had only the best interest of OGB members at heart and that the depletion of the reserve fund was beyond the control of the administration, the report of Buck Consultants, hired by Kristy Kreme said on page iii of its summary: IMG_9230

  • It is our understanding that the Plan premium rates, used both to determine contributions from the various employer agencies, and to set contributions required from the retirees, were set artificially low to draw down the OGB’s reserve fund, and it is our further understanding that this is a temporary deviation from the Plan’s substantive plan, which continues to provide for the legislated 75-25 cost-sharing under a “full subsidy” from the State. Our valuation anticipates that the 21 percent premium deficiency will be gradually eliminated on a uniform basis over five years from fiscal year 2015 through fiscal year 2019 through increases in retiree premium rates in excess of the underlying assumed health trend. The actuary notes that in the prior valuation at July 1, 2012, the plan incurred a loss of $388 million associated with premium rates lower than anticipated.

For the entire Buck Consultants report, click here. http://www.doa.louisiana.gov/osrap/library/afr%20packetts/2014OGB_OPEBValuationReport.pdf

State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) said he had received a copy of the Buck report earlier. “Nothing in this supports Kristy Nichols,” he said.

Edwards has been a vocal critic of the proposed OGB changes, claiming that the increased co-pays and deductibles will create unnecessary hardships on retirees, some of whom are facing co-payments and deductibles higher than their monthly income.

The entire OGB affair has become so confusing that many OGB members were turned away from the first meeting held in Baton Rouge on Monday to explain the changes. Jindal fired about two dozen OGB workers in the last round of firings and Kristy Kreme immediately found it necessary to contract with Ansafone of San Diego, California, and Ocala, Florida which has been trying to hire 100 people in each state to man telephone banks to answer questions about Louisiana’s plan.

Kristy Kreme has already found it necessary to dispatch one OGB employee to San Diego to train Ansafone employees and now $107,000-a-year OGB Chief Operating Officer Bill Guerra is in San Diego conducting training sessions on how to answer questions from OGB members.

DOA, by the way, is supposed to be strapped for cash and there is a statewide freeze on out of state travel but apparently found it necessary to send Guerra to California for a month.

So, let’s recap:

  • Jindal fires most of the OGB employees, including director Tommy Teague, and turns over a perfectly smooth-running agency to Blue Cross/Blue Shield (BCBS) with promises of no changes in benefits or premiums.
  • Less than two years after BCBS takes over, the OGB reserve fund is depleted by one half.
  • The administration fires two dozen more employees because of a lack of work and then enters into a $1.3 million contract with a California company to respond to questions from Louisiana residents.
  • Kristy has to hire two executives from BCBS to help OGB CEO Susan West who apparently is not up to the task. One of those, who ostensibly serves under West, is paid a higher salary than West.
  • Kristy Kreme Nichols attempts to mislead legislators and OGB members by repeatedly saying Obamacare is responsible for rising health costs and the depletion of the OGB reserve fund. No one buys her story.
  • Kristy tells State Rep. John Bel Edwards that the OGB actuary, Buck Consultants, recommended a decrease in premiums but a single paragraph from the Buck Consultants report summary contradicts that claim.
  • Two OGB executives have been sent to California to attempt to teach Ansafone employees how to respond to questions from Louisiana residents.
  • Kristy Kreme ducks out on legislators near the end of the Sept. 25 hearing by the House Appropriations Committee to take her daughter to a One Direction concert in New Orleans where she and her daughter occupy Jindal’s suite at the Smoothie King Arena.
  • A survey of employee job satisfaction conducted in 21 agencies in the Division of Administration reveals widespread dissatisfaction and distrust of the administration. Understandably, the survey has never been released and its contents were not divulged until LouisianaVoice recently obtained a copy.

And now, Jindal is offering foreign policy advice to President Obama with the release of a “policy paper” that calls for more defense spending. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/10/bobby_jindal_takes_on_obama_fo.html

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A directive to craft a request for proposals (RFP) in such a way as to favor a specific vendor during a meeting of top administrative officials in 2010 may have violated the state’s bid laws and opened the door to charges of bid-rigging, according to a former State Senator who spoke with LouisianaVoice on Wednesday.

That meeting may also have been instrumental in the decision by then-Commissioner of Administration Angéle Davis to resign her position in early August of 2010.

Former State Sen. Butch Gautreaux (D-Morgan City), who was the State Senate’s representative on the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) Board of Directors, told LouisianaVoice that the meeting was held to discuss an RFP from vendors to provide health care coverage to state workers in northeast Louisiana.

Gautreaux said he was told by then-OGB Executive Director Tommy Teague that he (Teague) was directed by Timmy Teepell to “write a tightly-written RFP” so that only one company could meet the bidding criteria.

Teepell was Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Chief of Staff at the time of that meeting. Besides Teague and Teepell, also in attendance at that meeting were Jindal’s Executive Counsel Steve Waguespack who would succeed Teepell as Chief of Staff, and Davis.

Teague, contacted Wednesday by LouisianaVoice, confirmed the substance of Gautreaux’s story, though he said he was by now somewhat vague as to who was in attendance. “That happened so long ago,” he said, “but the gist of what he says is correct.”

Davis announced her resignation on June 24, 2010, though she stayed on until Aug. 8 when she was succeeded by Paul Rainwater. Teepell resigned in October of 2011.

The vendor that Teepell was most likely referring to was Vantage Health Plan of Monroe which currently holds two separate contracts with OGM worth a combined $53 million.

One of those contracts, for $45 million, is a one-year contract to provide a health maintenance organization (HMO) and hospitalization provider network plan and runs from Jan. 1, 2013 through Dec. 31 of this year. The second, for the same time period, is for $8 million to provide a Medicare Advantage plan for eligible OGB retirees. That plan, similar to ones offered by Peoples Health and Humana in South Louisiana, would be available only to those retirees eligible for Medicare. Retirees hired prior to 1986 and who have never worked in the private sector long enough to qualify for Social Security would not be eligible for the latter plan.

Vantage Health Plan has held 11 state contracts in all, totaling nearly $325 million at least as far back as former Gov. Mike Foster’s second term. The first, for $6.7 million, was for three years, from July 1, 2000, to June 30, 2003, to provide medical services for active and retired plan members.

Under Foster and into former Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s term, Vantage held two contracts: one for $46 million that ran three years, from July 1, 2003, to June 30, 2006 to provide an HMO program, physician and hospital provider network, and a one-year contract, from July 1, 2006 to June 30, 2007, was for $30 million to provide HMO services for state employees.

In Jindal’s first year in office, 2008, OGB issued a $9.925 million contract that ran for 30 months, from July 1, 2008, through Dec. 31, 2010, for Vantage to provide a Medicare Advantage plan for eligible retirees.

The following year, a $20 million contract for only 10 months—from Sept. 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010—was awarded to Vantage to provide an HMO plan to OGB members.

In 2010, Vantage received its biggest contract for $70 million for only 22 months, to run from July 1, 2010 to Aug. 31, 2012 for an HMO plan. That contract was one of four contracts with Vantage totaling $161 million that overlapped between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2013.

Other contracts included:

  • One running from Jan. 1, 2011 to Dec. 31, 2012 for $14 million for Medicare Advantage plan for eligible retirees;
  • One for $10 million for only three months, from Sept. 1, 2012 to Dec. 31, 2012 for a medical home HMO plan for members;
  • One for $65 million for two years, from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2013 for an HMO plan.

The obvious question is: Why Vantage?

For openers, Vantage and its officers have been active in writing checks for state politicians.

Gary Jones, president of Vantage, has personally contributed at least $20,000 to state politicians since 2003, including $10,000 to Jindal and $5,000 to former Gov. Blanco.

Michael Ferguson, a director of Vantage Holdings, Vantage Health Plan’s predecessor, gave $4,000 to state office holders, including $1,500 to Rep. Frank Hoffman (R-West Monroe) who serves as vice chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee; Matthew Debnam, also a director of Vantage Holdings, $1,000 to Hoffman, and Terri Odom, also a Vantage Holdings director, $500 to Hoffman.

But it is Vantage Health Plan itself that is the biggest player in lining the pockets of state politicians.

Vantage, since Jan. 1, 2003, has kicked in no less than $61,900 to candidates. These include $1,000 to Jindal, $2,000 to former legislator Troy Hebert who now serves as director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (AGC), $1,500 to House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles), $16,000 to Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon and $5,000 to Sen. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), among others.

While these contributions are all legal, they do raise the recurring issue of influence buying at all levels of government. And it is the $70 million contract in 2010 that raises the issue of possible bid-rigging. And while there may well have been no such attempt, if Teepell did indeed issue instructions to Teague to craft the RFP in such a way that only Vantage would meet the bid criteria, then the administration crossed a serious legal line for which it must be held accountable.

It was subsequent to that 2010 meeting and only weeks before the contract was awarded that Davis submitted her resignation and Teague was gone the following year on April 15, 2011.

This claim should spark investigations by the Inspector General’s office, the Attorney General, the East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s office and the U.S. Attorney’s office—the latter because federal Medicare funds were involved in several other Vantage contracts.

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