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Archive for the ‘Transparency’ Category

The news release by last September said that former Gov. Bobby Jindal had been appointed to the board of directors of by Wellcare Health Plans, Inc., of Tampa, Florida.

Yawn. Ho-hum. Has LouisianaVoice become so desperate for stories that it resurrects a nine-month-old news release?

Well, things have been a little slow of late. Even the recently-adjourned legislative session failed to generate any surprises other than the usual parties, dinners at Baton Rouge’s most expensive restaurants and hobnobbing with lobbyists to the general detriment of constituents, i.e. Louisiana citizens.

But it has long been my contention that when one peels back a few layers from the cover story, one will usually find the real story. After all, a July 2016 LouisianaVoice STORY turned up a link between Jindal and a lucrative state contract for another company that had appointed him to its board.

Accordingly, I went looking a little deeper and YOWSER! Sha-ZAM!

It seems that appointment of Jindal, described in the news release as one “who has dedicated his career to public service and advancing innovative healthcare polices,” appears to have been payback for services rendered while he was governor.

Documents obtained from the Louisiana Department of Health show that CENTENE, a major U.S. health insurer, is the parent company of Louisiana Healthcare Connections, Inc., which was awarded a contract for nearly $1 billion with the Louisiana Department of Hospitals in September 2011, just a month before Jindal’s reelection to a second term.

LHCC Contract 2012

The contract called for Louisiana Healthcare Connections to perform “a broad range of services necessary for the delivery of health care services to Medicaid enrollees…”

That contract was to run from February 1, 2012, through January 31, 2015.

On January 19, 2015, the contract was renewed for another three years, to run through January 31, 2018. The contract amount was increased from the original $926 million to $1.9 billion.

LHCC Contract 2015

But just before Jindal left office, on December 1, 2015, that contract was amended from $1.9 billion to $3.9 billion, perhaps in anticipation that incoming Gov. John Bel Edwards would keep his promise to expand Medicaid under Obamacare—which he did.

In March of this year, USA Today published a STORY that Centene (Louisiana Healthcare Connections parent company, remember) would purchase WellCare Health Plans, Inc. for $17.3 billion.

It would be most interesting to see if Jindal netted a windfall from that transaction, coming as it did only six months after he was named to WellCare Health Plans’ board.

It’s unknown just how long negotiations had been ongoing between Centene and WellCare Health Plans, but the timing does open the door for speculation that the doubling of the Louisiana Healthcare Connections contract, Jindal’s appointment to the WellCare Health Plan board and Centene’s purchase of WellCare are more than coincidental.

To add a little spice to the recipe of Louisiana political gumbo, they’re also a few interesting campaign contributions.

  • On March 11, 2011, just six months before Louisiana Healthcare was awarded that initial contract for $926 million, WellCare of Louisiana, a subsidiary of WellCare Health Plans, contributed $5,000 to Jindal’s reelection campaign.
  • On January 17, 2012, only two weeks before its initial contract took effect, Louisiana Healthcare Connections gave Jindal $5,000.
  • Louisiana Healthcare’s parent company, Centene, gave Jindal $5,000 on January 17, 2012 (the same date as Louisiana Healthcare’s contribution). Centene gave him another $5,000 on November 19, 2012 and still another $5,000 back on August 14, 2008, eight months after Jindal first moved into the governor’s office.
  • Oh, and the New Orleans law firm of McGlinchey Stafford, the registered agent for Louisiana Healthcare, gave Jindal $1,000 on September 23, 2003; $5,000 on October 30, 2003; $5,000 on April 6, 2007, and $5,000 on March 2, 2011.
  • On April 23, 2009, Centene’s then Chairman and CEO Michael Neidorff kicked in $3,000 to Jindal.

It would seem that Bobby Jindal is perfectly willing to skirt a few ethical standards in order to ensure that life after politics can continue to benefit from life while in politics.

So, you see, even the most mundane news release can carry a wealth of information if one is willing to follow a convoluted path to the ultimate source of the money.

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The breadth and depth of ruthlessness and greed apparently knows no bounds with the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry.

And it’s time, past time, that Gov. John Bel Edwards stepped in and brought an end to the destructive force that the board has become.

LouisianaVoice has documented numerous instances of abuses by the board:

EXAMPLE ONE

EXAMPLE TWO

EXAMPLE THREE

EXAMPLE FOUR

EXAMPLE FIVE

EXAMPLE SIX

EXAMPLE SEVEN

EXAMPLE EIGHT

EXAMPLE NINE

EXAMPLE TEN

EXAMPLE ELEVEN

EXAMPLE TWELVE

EXAMPLE THIRTEEN

EXAMPLE FOURTEEN

EXAMPLE FIFTEEN

EXAMPLE SIXTEEN

EXAMPLE SEVENTEEN

EXAMPLE EIGHTEEN

And these are just a few of the stories we and others have done about the gestapo-like tactics of this board established to protect consumers but which has become nothing other than a means for raising funds to support the salaries of board executives, staff, attorneys and investigators, not to mention rent in luxurious office spaces.

Because it receives no funding from the state General Fund, the board, like the State Board of Medical Examiners, relies on back-breaking fines that are completely out of proportion to the offenses for which doctors and dentists are fined by a board that acts simultaneously as accuser, investigator, prosecutor and judge.

In short, there can be no semblance of due process with kangaroo courts like these.

There have been efforts in the legislature to rein in the runaway boards, but those efforts have met with little success.

In the case of Dr. Ken Starling of Slidell (see Examples 3 and 18), the arrogance of the board and the ineptness of the Office of Inspector General have to be particularly galling.

Starling did everything the board asked of him, including entering and completing a rehab program at a costly facility in Rayville. But that apparently was not enough, for when Starling petitioned the board, sitting in god-like judgment of him, for reconsideration of adverse sanctions assessed against him, he only met with more maddening bureaucracy compounded by the ineptitude of the Office of Inspector General, which appears to have less justification for existence than just about any other state agency.

The PROCEDURES for reconsideration of an adverse disciplinary decision by the board says nothing at all about referring a dentist’s petition to the Office of Inspector General. Yet, that’s precisely what the board did, punting its responsibilities to another equally-bumbling agency.

LouisianaVoice has tracked some of the performance claims of the OIG and found that its claims of recovery of millions of dollars in restitution from felonious state employees were misleading because they basically piggy-backed federal prosecutors who actually led all the leg work.

As tor the OIG itself, it has provided little evidence of being an effective investigative or enforcement agency. In other words, taxpayer dollars wasted on useless inertia.

At any rate, the dentistry board, relying of all things, on the results of an OIG “investigation,” rejected Starling’s petition. Inspector Clouseau would have been a better choice.

The board, in a classic case of the blind leading the blind, noted that the OIG “reported to the Board that it found no irregularities or improper conduct associated with the investigation in 2009-2010 or the Consent Decree of March 5, 2010.”

Of course not. The OIG could not find its posterior with both hands, so it was a safe call by the dentistry board to refer the matter to OIG. You might say it was a classic Catch-22 that would do Joseph Heller proud while sealing Starling’s fate.

The board didn’t even extend the courtesy of sending a letter to Starling notifying him of its decision, relying instead on an email:

From: Rachel Daniel
Date: May 21, 2019 at 2:25:58 PM CDT
To: Kenneth Starling

Cc: Arthur Hickham <ahickham@lsbd.org>

Subject: Request for Reconsideration of Adverse Sanctions

Dear Dr. Starling:

Your petition for reconsideration of adverse sanctions was addressed by the members of the Disciplinary Oversight Committee and by the full board on March 15, 2019 in accordance with LAC 46:XXXIII.116.  While the committee found that your petition should be presented to the full board, the board voted unanimously to refer your case and your concerns to the Office of the State Inspector General of Louisiana (OIG).

After the OIG’s investigation, the OIG reported to the Board that it found no irregularities or improper conduct associated with the investigation in 2009-2010 or the Consent Decree of March 5, 2010.  Therefore, your petition of adverse sanctions was addressed again by the members of the Disciplinary Oversight Committee on May 7, 2019 in accordance with LAC 46:XXXIII.116.

Please be advised that the committee found that your request for reconsideration of adverse sanctions on May 7, 2019 lacked substantial merit and was denied.  Attached please find board rule .116 which outlines the time delay before which you can seek further relief.

Should you have any questions regarding this correspondence, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

 

Arthur F. Hickham, Jr.

Executive Director

Louisiana State Board of Dentistry

P.O. Box 5256

Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70821-5256

225.219.7334  Phone

225.219.0707  Fax

www.lsbd.org

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Remember THIS STORY as Bobby Jindal moved into the governor’s office in 2008?

That was in 2008. Fast forward to May 16, 2019 and we have a thoroughly-researched and informative story by Baton Rouge Advocate reporter ANDREA GALLO in partnership with ProPublica, a leading investigative journalism website that details just how impotent, inept, and dysfunctional the Louisiana State Board of Ethics has become, thanks to Jindal’s “Gold Standard of Ethics,” passed in 2009, immediately after he assumed the office of governor.

In the 10 years since Jindal literally gutted the State Ethics Board of any enforcement powers, the board has become the antithesis of bodies like the State Board of Dentistry and the State Board of Medical Examiners which have the unbridled power to impose draconian penalties against dentists and doctors in order to support their exorbitant budgets.

Both extremes are classic examples of how political considerations trump due process and fairness in state government.

One bankrupts professionals who must accept coercion and extortion or face financial ruin while the other currently has more than $1 million in uncollected campaign violation fines dating back to (ahem) 2008, the year Jindal was elected.

Campaign finance report enforcement is all but non-existent, if the Louisiana Ethics Administration’s list of delinquent fines is any indication.

The administration’s WEBSITE lists 62 pages totaling about 700 uncollected fines dating back 11 years and totaling nearly $1.1 million, a testament to inefficiency and waste.

Moreover, the dental and medical boards, as well as other regulatory boards, have broad power to initiate their own investigations, something the ethics commission lacks. It can only investigate alleged ethics violations if it receives an official complaint.

But wait. Only elected or appointed officials may file a complaint; your average Louisiana citizen “has no standing” to file a complaint.

In other words, those not subject to an ethics complaint unless said complaint is made by a state or local official include:

  • A legislator who contracts with the state for hurricane debris removal (a real, not hypothetical case) is not subject to an ethics complaint unless said complaint is made by a state or local official.
  • A legislator uses campaign funds to pay his federal income taxes (again, an actual case), there is no ethics violation without an official complaint.
  • Another legislator using campaign funds to lease luxury vehicles for himself and members of his family and to purchase season tickets to Saints, Pelicans and LSU games.
  • Or a former governor publishing a book and then using funds from his tax-exempt foundation to purchase thousands of copies of the book at a nice profit to himself.

Convenient, no?

Jindal’s good-government charade began as soon as he took office and as a result, ethics board members resigned en masse in protest.

But could Jindal have harbored ulterior motives in pushing for his “reforms”?

On January 25, 2008, right after he took office, he was hit with his own $2,500 FINE for failure to timely disclose more than $100,000 spent on his behalf by the state Republican Party. A month later, he opened his first SPECIAL SESSION of the legislature dedicated solely to ethics reform.

At the same time, the Jindal reform package, when passed, allowed pending ethics fines against political allies, including then-state representative but current Grambling State University President RICK GALLOT, disappear.

The same couldn’t be said for two CALCASIEU PARISH PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS who led unsuccessful recall efforts against Jindal and then-House Speaker Chuck Kleckley. The teachers found themselves facing fines of $1,000 each for failing to file timely campaign finance reports. You can bet that little transgression wasn’t overlooked by Jindal and his “Gold Standard” of ethics.

But it’s impossible to place all the blame on Jindal.

In July 2007, more than a year before Jindal’s election, the ethics board allowed its chief administrator, Gray Sexton, resign and then rehired him in a different capacity—all to AVOID A REQUIREMENT under a new ethics law that he disclose clients in his private law practice, a move that on its face, might appear unethical to many.

But it didn’t end there. Sexton has since retired but now represents defendants before his former employer. Among his clients::

  • Lafayette developer Greg Gachassin;
  • Tammany Assistant District Attorney Harry Pastuszek, Jr.;
  • John the Baptist Parish Engineer C.J. Savoie and his company, C. J. Savoie Engineers;
  • Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph;
  • State Rep. Nancy Landry;
  • John the Baptist Parish President William Hubbard;
  • Former state senate candidate Shawn Barney;
  • Shreveport businessman Bobby Jelks;

And as far back as 1986, a full 17 years before Jindal’s first campaign for governor, it was common for the ethics board to be used selectively to punish politicians or public servants who had fallen from favor.

That was the year that former LSU athletic director Bob Brodhead and Baton Rouge Advocate publisher Doug Manship were FOUND GUILTY by the ethics board in connection with a flight by Brodhead and his wife to Manship’s private club in LaPaz, Mexico, on Manship’s private plane.

Then-LSU President James Wharton used the ethics charges as leverage to oust Brodhead even though Wharton was aware of the trip and even encouraged the Brodheads to take the trip, according to Brodhead’s account in his book Sacked!

Strangely enough, no ethics violations investigations were ever initiated against Wharton and LSU Alumni Association President Charlie Roberts for accepting dove hunting trips from LSU Board of Supervisors member Sam Friedman, nor were ethics violation charges ever pursued against Friedman who owned a Holiday Inn hotel outside Gainesville, Florida, the hotel at which the LSU football team was quartered when it played in Gainesville.

Nor did the ethics board pursue charges against legislators who routinely accepted dove-hunting trips from lobbyists, choosing instead to “take no action.” In fact, a story in The Advocate said, “The Board’s staff attorney refused to say who the lawmakers were, when or why they took the trip.”

The time has long since past when the legislature reinstated the enforcement powers of the ethics board.

The alternative would be to admit the futility of any pretense at enforcement, or even the existence of, governmental ethics and simply shut down the agency as excess baggage.

We would probably never notice the difference.

 

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LSU basketball coach Will Wade has been REINSTATED and all those Tiger Athletic Foundation (TAF) supporters can breathe a sigh of relief.

But does anyone even remember the shabby treatment of STEVEN HATFIELD by LSU? Did anyone ever protest the disgraceful manner in which he was shown the door? Well, a handful of SCIENTISTS did protest Hatfield’s firing, but who listens to scientists anyway? Certainly not Donald Trump.

Hatfield, for those who may not remember, was an expert on biological warfare who, along with about 30 others, found themselves on the FBI’s list of “persons of interest” in connection with its investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks. Apparently, this honor was bestowed upon him because he had once passed through Fredrick, Maryland, where the anthrax envelopes were mailed from. Actually, he worked as a biodefense researcher for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick—enough to make him a “person of interest.”

Even though the FBI repeatedly said that Hatfill was not a suspect in the case, it nevertheless directed the university to prohibit Hatfill from participating in any projects financed by the Justice Department.

LSU meekly complied without asking the FBI for a shred of evidence. The university denied that its decision was influenced by the fact that LSU received substantial funds from the Justice Department for programs that trained law-enforcement and public health officials to handle bioterrorism attacks and similar crises.

Not satisfied with firing Hatfield, LSU went a step further in firing his boss, STEPHEN GUILLOT, director of the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training and the Academy for Counter-Terrorist Education.

And our legislators wonder why so many professors are looking at Louisiana in their rear-view mirrors.

Can you say “extortion”?

Hatfill had the last laugh, however, settling his LAWSUIT against LSU and the federal government for $4.6 million.

The odyssey of a former LSU BAND DIRECTOR got more ink than the injustices inflicted upon Hatfield.

The Baton Rouge SUNDAY ADVOCATE was liberally PEPPERED with stories SPECULATING with breathless anticipation the next steps for Wade and LSU. The gnashing of hands and wringing of teeth even carried over to Monday with yet another story that DICK VITALE had returned to a Baton Rouge radio show to discuss the monumental ongoing saga that, to rabid LSU fans at least, carries all the weight of say, the selection of a new Pope.

Yet, only minimal coverage was given to the manner in which LSU canned hurricane scientist IVOR VAN HEERDEN following his criticism of the U.S. Corps of Engineers because his public statements were “hurting LSU’s quest for federal funding across the board.”

Now that’s the humanitarian approach: go right for the bottom line.

The fact that van Heerden’s criticism was vindicated when tests of steel pilings revealed the very deficiencies, he had described that led to the levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina did nothing to prompt LSU to rush to reinstatement.

So, he did the obvious: he FILED SUIT filed suit against LSU in 2010 for wrongful termination.

LSU, if nothing else, is consistent. It doggedly defended the lawsuit, even after losing one key ruling after another until Jed Horne, a columnist for THE LENS, a New Orleans online news service, wrote:

Journalists and members of the LSU community who are aware of the ongoing persecution are disgusted and somewhat mystified that the university has chosen to go after van Heerden, rather than quietly settle this shameful case. It seems especially odd in light of the state’s increasing vulnerability to catastrophic storms and van Heerden’s proven expertise in anticipating their wrath—not to mention the high cost of protracted litigation as Gov. Bobby Jindal makes devastating cuts to the university’s budget.

Finally, after throwing $435,000 of taxpayer funds down a rat hole to defend the suit (benefiting no one but the state’s defense attorneys) LSU finally decided to settle in February 2013 for an undisclosed amount. Again, taxpayer dollars but this time the court concealed from public view the amount of the settlement, itself a disturbing trend when public dollars are involved.

While the local media in Baton Rouge have given extensive coverage to the travails of poor Will Wade (six-year, $15 million contract), not a nano-second of air time nor a single sentence has been devoted to the manner in which the LSU Dental School swept a multi-million-dollar scandal under the rug by firing the whistleblower who revealed that a joint replacement device developed by Dr. John Kent, head of the LSU School of Dentistry’s Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Department, was defective. That the deficiencies resulted in excruciating pain and at least eight suicides wasn’t enough to prevent the department from ruining the career of DR. RANDALL SCHAFFER.

But thank God Will Wade has been reinstated.

Following drastic budget cuts to higher education in general and LSU in particular by the Bobby Jindal administration and his lap dog legislators, it was decided that LSU President JOHN LOMBARDI  John Lombardi had to go for his failure of leading LSU to its “true vision and leadership.” Lombardi had opposed some of Jindal’s PROPOSALS, a cardinal sin, it turned out.

One of the things that sealed Lombardi’s fate was his hesitancy to endorse the surrender of the LSU Medical Center via a contract containing 55 blank pages. The beneficiary of Jindal’s generosity, by the way, was a sitting member of the LSU Board of Supervisors who headed the outfit that took over University Medical Center in Shreveport. But no conflict there, apparently.

Also loath to approve the giveaway of one of the finest teaching hospital systems in America were LSU Health Care System head Dr. Fred Cerise and Interim Louisiana Public Hospital CEO Dr. Roxanne Townsend. On July 17, 2013, there was a meeting at which the privatization of the state’s system of LSU medical centers was pitched.

Both Cerise and Townsend were present at that meeting and both EXPRESSED THEIR RESERVATIONS. Members of the Board of Supervisors who were at the meeting “indicated they want LSU’s management to pursue this strategy,” according to a two-page summary of the meeting prepared by Cerise.

With days, two of the most respected members of the LSU medical community were gone. Fired.

But LSU has Will Wade back in the fold and all is well.

Following drastic budget cuts to higher education in general and LSU in particular by the Bobby Jindal administration and his lap dog legislators, it was decided that LSU President JOHN LOMBARDI had to go for his failure of leading LSU to its “true vision and leadership.” Lombardi had opposed some of Jindal’s PROPOSALS, a cardinal sin, it turned out.

And who could ever forget the humiliation the LSU Board heaped upon legendary football coach Charles McClendon by making the man wait in his car back in 1979 while the board decided his fate? He was canned because he couldn’t beat Bear Bryant. Well, guess what? No one else was beating the Bear either. If that is the barometer for a coach’s survival at LSU, then no coach’s job is safe as long at Nick what’s-his-name is at ‘Bama.

And the ham-fisted manner in which Athletic Director Joe (Duke lacrosse death angel) Alleva handled the LES MILES firing had all the delicacy and subtlety of Jack the Ripper.

But Will Wade is back and that makes everything okay.

Until the other shoe drops from the ongoing FBI investigation, as it almost surely will.

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You want to know how politicians skew their poll data?

A poll commissioned by Candidate A, for example may contain loaded questions like:

If you were asked to choose between Candidate A, who believes in the sanctity of life, and Candidate B, who believes in killing babies, would you vote for Candidate A or Candidate B?

Or:

If you were asked to choose between Candidate A, who believes people who rape and kill should be given stiff jail sentences and Candidate B, who believes we should open the prison doors, would you vote for Candidate A or Candidate B?

Candidate B, of course, actually stands for a woman’s right to choose and he believes our prisons are overcrowded with non-violent offenders, but Candidate A doesn’t couch his poll questions in that manner. Instead, Candidate B is a baby-killer who wants to turn hardened criminals loose on an unsuspecting public.

Or maybe, in Candidate A’s poll, Candidate A wants to bring jobs to the people of Louisiana while Candidate B, by tightening restrictions on tax giveaways to greedy corporations who don’t really produce that many jobs anyway, is cast as one who wants to drive business and industry from the state.

You may even be asked something like, “If you were told that Candidate A loves his family and teaches Sunday School and Candidate B beats his wife and kids, would you vote for Candidate A or Candidate B?”

Candidate A may be a womanizer who never sets foot in a church and Candidate B may be a devoted husband and father. No one has claimed that Candidate B beats his wife and kids, but you were asked a hypothetical question that implies that he does and phrased in that manner, you are naturally prone to support Candidate A even though you may know zilch about either candidate.

It’s really easy. And just because I’m using an example provided by the Trump campaign, don’t for a moment believe that the practice is limited to Republicans.

It’s not. They all do it.

But this one is especially egregious.

The Trump campaign, which somehow has me on its mailing list, sent this poll before the Mueller report was released. But to submit your response, you’re taken to another page which gives me the choice of contributing to his campaign in amounts ranging from $35 to $2,700.

“At this critical moment, we’re asking our strongest supporters:

“Do you think it’s time for this WITCH HUNT to conclude once and for all?

YES

NO

“This is the most important survey we’ve sent you this year.”

TAKE THE POLL

I tried to vote but without pledging a contribution, my poll response was blocked. In one attempt, I even received a text from the campaign informing me that I had entered an incorrect response.

So, by accepting responses only from those who contribute (and if one is prone to contribute to the campaign, it’s a pretty good bet the poll response would be sympathetic to Trump), the poll results necessarily showed heavy support for Trump, a fact he trumpeted in his tweets as “overwhelming evidence of a witch hunt.”

As pointed out earlier, this practice is by no means the exclusive tactic of Trump.

All candidates do it.

So, the next time you are polled about your political preference in the upcoming election cycle, be careful to listen to how the questions are phrased in order to get a good read as to how the poll is tilted in favor of a certain candidate.

And the next time you read about some candidate is doing well in his privately-commissioned poll, take it as biased—because it is. It’s going to be a poll tailored to the individual candidate and not an accurate reading of the electorate.

That’s just the way the game is played—by both sides.

And we are the losers.

 

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