Tuesday, June 29, 2038

NOTE: To find the most current posts, please scroll down to the two big red arrows.

Thursday, June 24, 2038

Friday, May 28, 2038

Items of interest in the Archives: The 2013 STRS Board Election

Many people have been very interested in reading about the irregularities of the 2013 STRS board election. There are many posts related to this topic, beginning the first week of April 2013, after the ballots were mailed to retirees from STRS. You can find them by going to the Archives for this blog, over in the right sidebar, and clicking on dates beginning with April 7, 2013. Dennis Leone announced his candidacy for a retired seat in November, 2012. There is a lot of information about him in the Archives, beginning with November 12, 2012 posts. 5/28/13

Wednesday, February 27, 2036

.....so what REALLY happened in 2003 that touched off a firestorm at STRS that is still smoldering today? Read it here, from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. (Hint: It ain't over yet!)

More here (Akron Beacon Journal, 2003)

Wednesday, April 11, 2035

Thursday, March 10, 2033

To find current, day-to-day posts -- pull your scroll bar down a ways, just below the big red arrows (you can't miss them). Thanks.


Monday, September 15, 2031

Note from this blogger.....

In case you weren't aware, I am quite willing to post opposing views on this blog; in fact, I welcome such opportunities. If you disagree with anything you see posted on my blog, please feel free to submit your views and I will gladly post them.
Kathie Bracy 
kbb47@aol.com 9/15/10.........................................

Monday, February 24, 2031

Find your state representative and senator here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2029

Gettin' a little tired.....

Some communications to Mike Nehf and Tim Myers, dating back as far as 2009, continue to go unanswered. Looks like it will be a long wait, but we haven't forgotten. You can see them here and here.

Saturday, April 29, 2028

I know, it's weird.........

Many posts that appear "at the top" for a while are eventually moved down, where they can be found under their original posting dates. Also, if you are confused by the postdating, this is done to keep these posts up there; otherwise, they drift down when new posts are added. It's a "blog thing" which I have no other way to control. KB

Wednesday, February 24, 2027

Handy links: Contacts, information and more (short version)
This is an abbreviated version of the original 'Handy links' post.
 Click here to view a more complete list. (Some of it is old.)
STRS Board.....STRS website
Board calendar
E-mail contacts at STRS (old, but some may still work)
Map/directions to STRS, 275 E. Broad St. Columbus, OH 43215
Rich DeColibus' PowerPoint presentation STRS' PBI Program; Does it work?: click December 21, 2008 (blog Archive) and scroll down to December 23 posts.
Popular links; click, then scroll down: , , , ,

Tuesday, February 24, 2026

SPECIAL (must read):

Dennis Leone's INVESTIGATIVE REPORT on STRS: May 16, 2003...Who is Dennis Leone?........(PDF version)...More on Dennis Leone .......(PDF version)
Dennis Leone's STRS Report to ORTA, March 2007
Dennis Leone's Testimony at the Statehouse 9/5/12
The Plain Dealer article that started it all
Historic PBI vote, January 16, 2009

Sunday, February 23, 2020


Friday, January 27, 2017

Handout to STRS Board members at their Education and Planning meeting 1/26/17

The Speech I Would Have Made If This Had Been a Regular STRS Board Meeting
Good afternoon. My name is Kathie Bracy; I am a member of the Ohio Retired Teachers Association and a Trustee to that board from Franklin County. Some of you will remember me, as I have attended many STRS Board meetings over the years. 
I am here to defend the COLA for all STRS beneficiaries who retired before the year 2000. You may recall that was the year the STRS Board enacted the 35-year/88% pension formula, ensuring a very comfortable retirement for those who qualified. Some of those very people were sitting on the STRS Board at that time and voted for this! I'll leave it to you to guess why.
Although the formula was discontinued in 2015, the 88 percenters are still living quite comfortably, financially, and always will. If the STRS Board is considering making COLA cuts, the COLA for this group should be the first to go. Some of those people are receiving $3,000-$4,000 COLAs every year, something the pre-2000 retirees will never see! There is absolutely no justification for continuing to pay out hefty COLAs to those who are already getting extremely generous pensions for the rest of their lives. 
Then there are those whose annual pensions exceed $120,000. How badly do these people need a COLA? Maybe, if they want to plan a trip around the world instead of a weekend at one of Ohio’s state parks. Time to cut their COLA, too. Out the door!
The future retirees are the next group that should receive no COLA at all. Members of this group are getting salaries far higher than pre-2000 retirees ever dreamed of! They too will be in much better financial shape to handle their living expenses than the pre-2000 retirees. That should be pretty obvious.
Those who retired before 2000 are facing steadily increasing costs for home insurance, auto insurance, utilities, healthcare and more, just like everyone else. But the budgets for these people are being strained far beyond what many of them can handle; you know that! The COLA should NOT be cut for this group, period! Think of the lady who retired 30 years ago on a meager pension, who is already struggling to put food on the table and pay her bills. How is she supposed to keep up? The COLA is the ONLY raise the pre-2000 retirees get!
And while we’re on the subject, it would not hurt the STRS Board to consider restoring the 3% COLA to the oldest and poorest (and probably the sickest) retirees among us. I would venture to guess even Scrooge would do that much if he were on this Board.
Lastly, I ask you not to even consider making equal cuts across-the-board. This would hurt thousands of retirees who are already hard-pressed to make ends meet while it would barely make a dent for those receiving the generous pensions that the pre-2000 retirees will never see. I see absolutely no justification for this, morally or otherwise.
Thank you.
Kathie Bracy
Columbus, OH
January 26, 2017

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

RH Jones: ORSC to try to take back 13th check?

From RH Jones, January 13, 2015

On page 2 of the Winter 2015 ORTA Quarterly, Ann Hanning reports last in her list of the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC): “removing the authority of the STRS board to issue a 13th check.” This is not the first time that the ORSC has considered backing the 13th check take away legislation. In 2004, the ORSC tried to “take back” this lawful benefit; and, if you readers would remember, on 10/19/2001, ORTA’s Executive Director of that time, David P. Travis, spoke before the STRS board in support of the 13th check (the Year-end [Christmas] Supplemental Clean-up check).

Time and space do not permit me to expound on all the benefits to this wonderful financial supplement; but, in short, I can write that: this is the only single benefit available to all STRS retirees fairly based the issuance, by a retiree friendly STRS board, of from 1 to 11-units, then multiplied on their professional years of service and years into retirement. Obviously, the older retirees who are retired with a considerably less final average salary (FAS) are the ones who need this Ohio Revised Code (O.R.C.) “on the books” the most; many of whom are experiencing large increases in nursing home or home care costs, HC/Rx costs, and increased taxes.
We retired teachers expect the ORSC, our ORTA, OEA-R, and our locals to support the keeping of our 13th check in the O.R.C. And we retired teachers understand that there is a need to improve funding for our HC/Rx and our simple calculated COLA. However, it is common knowledge that the 13th check can be issued yearly, determined by the STRS board as future funding becomes available. There should be, therefore, no reason to cut this benefit from the O.R.C. 
Respectfully submitted,
Bob Jones, retired OH teacher

Saturday, January 10, 2015

RH Jones: Retired teachers owe Attorney General DeWine our thanks

From RH Jones, January 10, 2015 
To retired and active educators:

Please read Attorney General Mike DeWine’s press release below.  We retired and active educators owe him our thanks for going after the American Capital Properties (ARCP) for their alleged “cover-up”  of accounting fraud causing our OHSTRS to lose millions of dollars.

Attorney General DeWine to Seek Lead Plaintiff Status for Ohio Pension Funds in Securities Lawsuit

Following a recent review of securities and accounting fraud allegations, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced that he has filed a motion for two of Ohio’s pension funds to lead a class of investors in a lawsuit against American Realty Capital Properties (ARCP), Inc. The news comes after the company, a real estate investment trust based in New York City, disclosed that ARCP officials intentionally misstated company financials, and subsequently covered up the accounting irregularities, resulting in approximately $3 billion in losses for the company’s shareholders, including State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio (STRS) and the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS).  
“The information American Realty Capital Properties provided pension fund managers was false, misleading, and purposefully hid accounting fraud,” said Attorney General DeWine. “This fraud inflated the true value of the company, causing Ohio teachers and public employees to lose millions of hard-earned retirement dollars.” 
The motion alleges that ARCP issued materially false and misleading financial statements by, among other things, overstating reported adjusted funds from operations, and then intentionally covering up their impropriety. In addition, it alleges that ARCP improperly accounted for various accruals and expenses that materially affected the company’s reported earnings per share. As a result of ARCP’s improper accounting and cover-up, key performance metrics were overstated and reported net losses for the reporting periods ending June 30, 2014 were understated. Revelation of this alleged accounting fraud by ARCP on October 28, 2014 resulted in losses in the company’s stock value of approximately $3 billion. STRS and OPERS lost in excess of $7.5 million as a result of the alleged fraud. 
The motion asks the court to consolidate several lawsuits against ARCP and to name the Ohio pension funds STRS and OPERS lead plaintiffs. 
"STRS Ohio looks forward to working once again with Attorney General DeWine and OPERS to protect the integrity of the financial markets," said Michael Nehf, Executive Director for STRS Ohio. 
“The OPERS Board of Trustees has been an active participant in securities litigation cases on behalf of our members and retirees,” said Karen Carraher, OPERS’ executive director. “This is a fiduciary responsibility that we take very seriously, and it is consistent with past actions we have taken to encourage corporate governance reform and to seek compensation for unlawful behavior. We intend to continue an aggressive posture to protect the integrity of the marketplace for all investors and citizens of Ohio.” 
The motion was made in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ohio's Spineless State School Board


Ohio’s State Board of Education voted today to remove the requirement that districts employ education specialists in order to “give local districts flexibility” from “unfunded mandates”.
Instead of taking a stand for the value of nurses, counselors, social workers and the arts in education and pushing back against the Kasich administration’s funding cuts and increased testing mandates, the School Board voted to eliminate the “5 of 8″ rule from Ohio Administrative Code, setting the stage for the further decimation of these services in our schools.
It is appalling that the majority of the current members of Ohio’s School Board don’t recognize the value of the positions in our schools.  Every single one of these highly-qualified and specially-trained professional positions are not only vital to the education of the whole child, but in many instances are crucial to the survival of children.  The notion that these positions should only be available to those children in communities that can afford them is akin to educational malpractice on the state level.
Instead of Ohio’s Board members shrugging their shoulders and throwing up their hands and blaming school funding, this was an opportunity for the State Board to say, “Enough is enough!”  At some point, the Board needs to stop taking direction from the General Assembly and act like the independent body they are supposed to be.
Today, the State School Board opted to lower the bar in order to accommodate Governor Kasich and the GOP majority in Ohio’s General Assembly who continue to under-fund schools while passing a seemingly endless stream of unfunded mandates like OTES, OPES, the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, the Resident Educator Program, diagnostic testing in the primary grades, the new Kindergarten Assessment, and the latest and greatest version of standardized testing via PARCC that will soon require schools to have all the latest technology simply to administer more tests. Instead, Ohio’s School Board members could have taken this opportunity to draw a line in the sand and raise the bar on what a meaningful educational environment truly looks like for all of Ohio’s children.
They could have listened.  They plugged their ears.
They could have stood strong.  They cowered.
They could have held the line.  They retreated.
They could have fought for children.  They surrendered to politics.

At this point I need to admit something.  I (Greg) was wrong.  To be blunt, I royally [screwed] up.  In an article I wrote leading up to the elections, I recommended that you vote for School Board Candidate Ron Rudduck based on his extensive knowledge of Ohio’s messed up history of school funding.  I erroneously thought that such knowledge would ave benefited us all in circumstances exactly like this that are a direct result of that screwed up funding process.  I now wholeheartedly regret that recommendation and apologize to you, our readers.  Instead of using his knowledge and experience to push back against a legislature that isn’t meeting the needs of our students, Rudduck has been at the forefront of pushing the elimination of the “5 of 8″ rule with statements defending his action that simply make no sense.
Here’s one of Rudduck’s statements: “I’ll tell you the truth, a lot of the superintendents I talk to, especially the young ones, didn’t even know there was a rule called the 5 of 8.  So it leads you to believe it wasn’t involved in their decision making to begin with.”
Paraphrasing: “Some people in positions of highest authority are completely ignorant of the laws for which they are to be held accountable, so we can go ahead and get rid of them.”
The true story:  You can be damn sure that the teachers and the unions that represent them in negotiating contracts are aware of the requirements.
Here’s another Rudduck zinger: “It happens a lot when districts fail levies, unfortunately, the first positions that are cut are these education service personnel positions.”
Paraphrasing: “Since schools are overly reliant on local tax dollars due to the absence of an equitable public school funding model at the state level, I do expect that many of these specialist positions will end up getting cut.”
The true story: Since schools are overly reliant on local tax dollars due to the absence of an equitable public school funding model at the state level, I do expect that many of these specialist positions will end up getting cut.

Finally, if you sense that I’m a bit ticked off, it’s because the elimination of this requirement is personal.  My youngest son is:
  • Type-1 diabetic and insulin-dependent since 4th grade (a school nurse has never been optional)
  • Has played either strings or percussion since 4th grade, and is now in marching band & orchestra
  • Had an outstanding, licensed, professional art teacher in elementary school that fostered his love of the visual arts
  • Has had guidance counselors throughout his years of schooling who have been integral in coordinating intervention/enrichment services and will benefit from having guidance counselors at the high school level to assist him in looking at post-secondary education
And finally….
  • Despite being identified as gifted in every core subject area over the years (based on test scores, of course), he is tired of wasting school time on standardized tests, has told me he “hates Common Core” because it messed up his math classes, quickly adjusted to high school because of his previous musical experience and welcome acceptance into the marching band community, and has become increasingly independent at managing his diabetes with the daily encouragement of nurturing school nurses in elementary, middle, and now high school.
  • And personally, my senior year of high school consisted of six music courses (men’s glee, marching/concert band, senior choir, handbell choir, jazz band, and ensemble) and only three core subject courses.  And damn if I don’t use that ability to work collaboratively in a group while managing my independent responsibilities on a daily basis…
Don’t tell me these specialists should be optional.
Don’t tell me these specialists will only exist when a community can afford them.
Don’t tell me about living in the “right” Zip Code.
Don’t…just don’t.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

RH Jones: Time for that 13th check

RH Jones to Bob Stein
October 30, 2014 
Subj: Time for a STRS OH 13th Check for Retired Members
Dear Bob Stein, President of the STRS OH Board:

Congratulations on being elected as our STRS OH Board President. I wish you good luck in your new leadership role.

All of us retired teachers have received the happy news that our OH STRS has now reached the 29.5 year funding level that will enable the board members to once again vote to authorize the very fairly calculated “Supplemental 13th Check”. It is my understanding that this vital supplemental check is still on the law books; and, since retired teachers have been especially hit at an alarming level with high medical and costly prescription medications this coming 2015, it is essential for those of us which have been retired over 20-years.  Some did not even get their non-compounding COLA this year and its been 1/4-century since the state has issued an Ad-Hoc increase to keep us even with inflation.

As the “Holiday Season” fast approaches, it is incumbent that this be introduced to the board, voted upon, and passed by the STRS OH Board in the mid-November meeting.  As our Retired Representative and our new board president it will be delightfully appreciated by many of us who have felt that there has been a lack of caring by our STRS OH over the past few years.

Most humbly requested,

Bob Jones, a retired STRS OH teacher

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Cleveland teachers, YOU are getting screwed BIG TIME!

From John Curry, May 29, 2014

Remember when Michelle (with a motive) Rhee was wined and dined by Kasich a while ago? I do! Now...look what has happened to your jobs! They are being taken by those Rhee "five week wonders!" An even sadder note is that some of you will still run right out and vote Republican the next time you enter the voting booth. There's really no cure for stupidity, is there? Some times (actually, many times) teachers are their own worst enemies! John
Cleveland Schools To Fire Quality Teachers; Union President Speaks Out
By On May 29, 2014
The Cleveland School District is in the news this week as they are working to remove teachers who have received good evaluations while simultaneously expanding their contract with Teach For America. This contract expansion will replace these experienced and qualified teachers with untested, under-trained TFA corps members (who each come with a “finders fee” paid out to Teach For America which will total $400,000 in additional spending).
At the Cleveland School District Board of Education meeting this past Tuesday, hundreds of teachers gathered to protest these changes that caught these successful teachers off-guard.  One of the key speakers to offer public comments to the Board that night was Cleveland Teachers Union President, David Quolke.  At our request, President Quolke shared his remarks with us so that we could share an accurate story of what is taking place in Cleveland:
I am David Quolke and I am the President of the Cleveland Teachers Union. There are many issues that I could talk to you about today. Many issues that I – and my members – think should be brought to your attention. However, today, I need to talk about Non-Reappointments.
The first week in May, 70 of my members received notice that they were being recommended for non-reappointment. Now that number could be off because these were the numbers that I was given by the media after they spoke with CEO Gordon or someone from the District. When talking to the media – I explained that many of my members were blindsided when they received this news and that the CTU was blindsided also. You see, I have many cases of members who had good evaluations – developing and skilled all year long, who were taking on leadership roles in their schools, who have increased student achievement, who have a composite evaluation with developing and skilled ratings. So, yes, when these teachers were suddenly told in May that they were going to be recommended for non-reappointment they were indeed blindsided.
Before you say to me – David, you know that state law does not require poor evaluations in order to non-reappoint a limited contract teacher. I know. I know. However, when the media came to the CEO regarding the teachers that were being recommended for non-reappointment – here are some of the quotes directly from CEO Gordon:
“We have a few people that either can’t or won’t. These are the people that our principals say are not meeting the expectations for our kids.”
“At some point if you are not getting the job done, we shouldn’t continue to pay you to do it.”
“It’s new for us to evaluate this thoroughly. It’s part of the Cleveland Plan to make sure that we have the right people in front of kids.”
So I ask you –
Is it a part of the Cleveland Plan to non-reappoint teachers with Skilled evaluations?
Is it a part of the Cleveland Plan to non-reappoint teachers with Skilled evaluations who have made a year’s worth of growth with their students in just 5 months?
Is it a part of the Cleveland Plan to non-reappoint teachers that were hired in October, November, December and are Developing (where a new teacher should be) or a combination of Developing and Skilled?
Is it a part of the Cleveland Plan to non-reappoint teachers that are Developing or a combination of Developing and Skilled who are taking on leadership roles, such as AR Champion or in servicing staff on SLOs (at the request of the principal) or who are accepting students from the local universities to observe their classes?
Is it a part of the Cleveland Plan to non-reappoint teachers that start in September, score Developing and Skilled on evaluations, and take over 100 hours in voluntary professional development?
Is it a part of the Cleveland Plan to non-reappoint teachers that are described like this by an administrator “His relationship with scholars and teachers resulted in one of the most successful classrooms in the district. I placed some scholars in his classroom knowing that it would be their last chance for success within CMSD.
I hope that none of this is a part of the Cleveland Plan. If it is – this should serve as a dangerous warning to all people enrolled in local teacher preparation programs – Come work in Cleveland where we ignore teacher Development and get rid of you simply because we can.
I know what you are thinking and what some people are already saying. The teachers union protects bad teachers. David Quolke wants bad teachers teaching kids no matter what the cost. I know that these words are already echoing in city hall, at 1111, and throughout the community. Let me be very clear – THAT IS NOT TRUE. It is a lie. I am furious about these non-reappointments. The officers of the CTU have worked around the clock in hearings for members over the last two weeks. There are good teachers that are doing the things that I want my daughter’s teachers to do. There are good teachers doing the things and the good work that our development and evaluation system ask for. There are good teachers doing what is needed to increase student learning and student achievement. They do not deserve to be recommended to this Board for non-reappointment.
So obviously a logical question would be – why are these people being recommended for non-reappointment? I have no answer for you. I can only speculate, but it is certainly a question that must be asked and answered by the people who engineered this massive non-reappointment of good and qualified teachers.
I think some people will look at tonight’s Board agenda and see that one of the items is a resolution to approve $400,000 to hire Teach For America teachers. Are these non-reappointments to make room for Teach for America? I will not bash Teach for America. They are our colleagues and once hired work shoulder to shoulder with us trying their very best to educate our students. But the irony of non-reappointing new teachers in order to replace them with Teach for America is that TFA does what the district should be doing – provide mentors and support. That is the actual Developing of a teacher that CMSD has completely abandoned.
Great way to recruit and develop a talented work force.
Sounds more to me like the beatings will continue until the morale improves. Not a good strategy for real reform.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

If your hospital tells you they want 'cash up front', tell 'em to 'take a hike!'

From John Curry, May 20, 2014 
Please pay first, more hospitals say
Columbus Dispatch, May 18, 2014
An OhioHealth registrar called Kelley Finan to pre-register her for her scheduled outpatient arthroscopic knee surgery and verify her insurance policy.
Then the woman told Finan that she owed $1,365.16 out of pocket for the procedure.
“How would you like to pay for that today?” Finan recalled the woman asking. “We take credit cards or debit cards.”
Finan, 54, of Grandview Heights, said she refused to pay upfront, and the OhioHealth representative backed off.
“She never indicated her demand for payment was a ‘suggestion’ until I called her out on it,” Finan said.
Increasingly, local hospitals are requesting not only co-pays upfront but also deductibles and co-insurance, which is the patient’s share of the cost of a covered health-care service beyond the deductible.
Officials with all local hospitals that request payment of deductibles and co-insurance before a scheduled surgery or other health care said they don’t deny patients care if they refuse to pay upfront.
“We’re not holding patients hostage,” said Keith Coleman, Mount Carmel Health System’s chief financial officer.
On July 1, Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center will begin requesting — but not requiring — that deductibles be paid upfront at all of its locations where health-care services are scheduled in advance. The practice has been used sporadically for two years by Wexner Medical Center, which has not yet begun requesting co-insurance payments upfront.
Some other service providers, such as the travel industry, expect payment upfront, so it’s not unprecedented for the health-care industry to do the same, said Debra Lowe, the hospital’s administrative director of revenue cycle.
“If your car needs replaced and you owe your $500 deductible (in an insurance claim), it’s very clear that you need to pay that for services to be rendered,” Lowe said.
Hospitals are taking such steps to head off the possibility of bad debt as consumers see their deductibles balloon for employer-sponsored and individually purchased health coverage. Among workers who are enrolled in health benefits through their jobs, 15 percent had a deductible of at least $2,000 last year, up from 3 percent in 2007, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Educational Trust.
In the fiscal year that ended June 30, Wexner Medical Center collected $3.6 million from patients upfront, primarily in co-pays and deductibles. That total is expected to hit $4 million in the current fiscal year, which ends next month.
Local hospital systems recorded a combined $357 million in bad debt in their most recent fiscal years, up 14 percent from a year earlier.
Larger deductibles appear to be more common with the advent of policies available through the federal government’s new health-insurance exchanges, or marketplaces, Lowe said. She said Ohio State already has seen at least three patients whose policies purchased through Ohio’s federal exchange have deductibles of at least $10,000.
More hospitals are testing and adopting the approach, said Elisabeth Russell, the founder and president of the patient-advocacy consultancy Patient Navigator. “It’s harder to collect money from someone after they’ve walked out the door.”
With far more of patients’ own money at stake, it’s important that they understand how much is owed, Russell said. But she said patients also can lose leverage in their dealings with hospitals and other health-care providers if they pay deductibles and co-pays upfront.
“I think they should, if possible, avoid paying upfront (in case) things get messed up — as they usually do — in hospital bills,” Russell said.
At Wexner Medical Center, patients’ deductible payments are underestimated to reduce the chance that a patient will be overcharged.
“The last thing we want to do is overcollect and then have to refund your money,” Lowe said.
OhioHealth began collecting co-pays upfront from patients in 2008, and deductibles and co-insurance in the past two years, said Jane Berkebile, system vice president of revenue-cycle management.
In its most recent fiscal year, which ended in June, OhioHealth collected $19 million from patients at the point of service, including co-pays, deductibles and co-insurance, Berkebile said. The amount is increasing “as that portion that’s due from the patient has grown.” 
Mount Carmel, meanwhile, collects about $500,000 to $1 million upfront each month from patients, said Karen Geisler, patient-financial-services consultant. She said Mount Carmel has requested upfront payment from patients, including deductibles and co-insurance, for about eight years. 
Nationwide Children’s Hospital said it does not ask families of patients to pay their deductibles before services are provided.
“If we did move to collecting deductibles prior to service, we have financial counselors that would work with the family on other options,” the hospital said in a prepared statement.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

STRS Board Meeting May 15, 2014

Issues at the Statehouse:
As I reported in April, the Ohio House of Representatives passed Amended Substitute House Bill 483.  The House modified it just days prior to its passage. The amendment places a moratorium on the mitigating rate applied to alternative retirement plans and requires a study to be conducted relative to the mitigating rate. The moratorium would cease to be in effect as of July 1, 2015. The mitigating rate is a portion of the employer contribution that stays with the system when a member of the faculty at a public college or university chooses an alternative retirement plan (ARP) instead of a plan administered by STRS OH. The current rate is 4.5%. For every person covered by an ARP, STRS OH receives 4.5% of the 14% employer contribution to mitigate the negative impact that participation in an ARP has on STRS Ohio's Defined Benefit Plan. The faculty member's account receives the remaining 9.5% of the employer contribution. STRS Ohio's Executive Director, Mike Nehf is anticipating testifying before the Senate Finance Committee to express concerns with keeping the mitigating rate below the 5.5% recommended by the Board's actuary and to advocate that the study to be conducted on the mitigating rate be done by an actuarial firm.
On May 8th, the executive directors from STRS OH and the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System reviewed with the Ohio Retirement Study Council (OPERS) the systems' plans to discontinue the Irrevocable Waiver Program for health care. This program allowed benefit recipients of one system to enroll in another Ohio retirement system's health plan as a spouse by agreeing to irrevocably waive coverage in the system that pays their pension benefit. Because of changes in the Ohio retirement systems' programs that significantly reduce or eliminate spousal subsidies for health care coverage, the systems want to allow these individuals to enroll for coverage in the system that pays their benefit. The STRS Board voted in April to take this action and will allow these individuals to enroll in an STRS OH plan during the 2014 and 2015 open enrollment periods.
Paul Snyder, STRS Ohio's Deputy Executive Director for Finance, presented the system's proposed budget to the Council as required. This budget reflects a 1.08% increase over the current fiscal year's budget.
Issues from the STRS Meeting of May 15th, 2014
John Morrow, Chief Financial Officer of the Investment Department, reported a positive return of +13.0 for the fiscal year. Eight out of the past ten months have consistently produced high returns. The total fund is $72.9 billion dollars. April returns were good as employment improved. An early preview of May's returns were described as just so so. He reported that the Opportunistic/ Diversified theme has been expanded to include banking insurance and asset management. He gave a preview of a Domestic Equities initiative for 2015 that would have a) a Small Cap Value portfolio beginning in July of 2014 and b) a Concentrated Value portfolio also beginning in July of 2014 with a total of a $20 to $30 million investment. He promised to report more on these investments next month.
Callan Associates, Inc. also reported on STRS Investment Department's Performance Review. For the one-year period ending March 31st, 2014, the STRS Fund's domestic equity composite modestly trailed its benchmarks. The Total Real Estate exceeded its benchmark, but ranked below its peer median. International Equity and Fixed Income exceeded their benchmarks.
The Member Benefits Department (Pension Benefits) proposed a change to survivor benefits in which if a beneficiary dies, STRS would pay qualified children monthly survivor benefits to age 22 regardless of school attendance (recognizing other school and training options available today). This would provide a predictable, reliable stream of income to the surviving family. It would financially support children post-high school through studies & training to help them establish careers. Student benefits were added to survivor benefits Aug. 27th, 1970. This statute was written when college was a traditional four-year ( or two-year) course of study. Online and self-paced degree and training programs are now viable options for pursuing careers. Family incomes are disrupted when students don't meet the two-thirds of full-time basis outlined in the statute; yet, they may be in school or training. The formulas for this survivor benefit are two fold: a) dependent-based benefit in which the amount of the benefit depends on the number of qualified survivors in the family and fluctuates as children go off and back on survivor benefits and b) service-based benefit in which the amount of the benefit depends on years of service credit and the total benefit amount is constant and redistributes to remaining family members. OPERS retirement board approved pursuing payment up to age 22 at their Apr. 2014 meeting. SERS is paying up to age 19 due to recent pension reform changes. The STRS Board voted today to approve a change to the statute to pay all children monthly survivor benefits up to age 22.
The Member Benefits Department (Health Care) Greg Nickell reviewed the premiums and health care changes for 2015 that were recommended at last month's STRS meeting. He asked for Board action on those changes (which I sent in detail in last month's report) for 2015 ONLY. The Board voted to approve the changes effective January 2015. The health care changes proposed for 2016 will be reviewed and voted on at next month's STRS meeting.
The next STRS Board Meeting will be held on June 18th, 19th and 20th.

Friday, April 25, 2014

STRS Board Meeting April 24, 2014

Issues at the Statehouse:
At the March 20th STRS meeting, Segal Company recommended that STRS increase the mitigating rate for ARP from 4.5% to 5.5%. The first order of business at today's STRS meeting was scheduled to be a discussion of mitigating rates which the Chair, Dale Price promptly canceled. The reason was that the Ohio House of Representatives has taken up a study of the ARP mitigating rates, and it has now become part of the Amended Substitute House Bill 483. However STRS had wanted a 1% increase in the rate but before the STRS Board took action on this increase, the amendment to place a moratorium on the ARP rate of 4.5% was introduced in the House Finance and Appropriations Committee to express concerns with the amendment, namely:
1) The STRS Board as fiduciaries had a recent recommendation of their consulting actuary (Segal Co.) to increase the mitigating rate to 5.5% and:
2) the study being called for should be conducted by an actuarial firm and the systems for which the mitigating rate is an issue should be consulted (the systems were STRS, OPERS, and SERS). STRS Ohio worked with Rep. Dan Ramos (D_Lorain) to change the language.
Removal of the amendment altogether was ultimately offered as part of a package of amendments and failed along party lines. The bill as amended with the moratorium has moved through the House and will be taken up by the Senate when they return from spring break toward the end of April. The Senate has not yet established a timeline for acting on Am. Sub. H.B. 483 but passage by sometime in May has been mentioned.
The ORSC (Ohio Retirement Study Council) met April 10th and STRS Ohio's 30-year funding plan was presented by Executive Director Mike Nehf with an update to STRS Ohio's 30 year funding plan. He informed the Council that the Retirement Board approved a change that will direct the 1% of employer contributions currently being allocated to the Health Care Fund to the pension fund instead. That, coupled with the smoothing of the projected return on assets this year, is expected to reduce the system's funding period to 32 years. There were no comments or questions from the Council members.
Issues from the STRS Meeting of April 24th, 2014:
John Morrow, CFO of STRS Investment Department, reported a good month for March investments with a +12.4% estimated return for the fund. Alternative Investments led all indices. The market value of the fund is now back to $72 billion dollars. It seems as if everything is rosy in our investments and is on the right track. He reported that the new Fed Chair's (Janet Yellen) comments that the first short term interest rate increase could be "something on the order of around six months" caused an uproar but low interest rates will continue for a long time. He said that domestic equities shrugged off unrest between Russia and Ukraine with the S&P 500 closing March up .8% for the month. The S&P 500 has gained 18.4% on a total return basis for fiscal year 2014. International markets moved slightly higher in March and finished the month with a return of .3% for the STRS Ohio Blended Benchmark.
Greg Nickell, STRS Health Care, reported the first changes for the Health Care programs for January of 2015: 
a) Medical Mutual Plus and Basic plans will have an increase of deductible and coinsurance for both In-Network and Out-of Network plans as well as two in-network primary care visits at $20. each in the Basic Plan. 
b) The Aetna Plan will have a reduction of In-Network copay for primary care physician, specialist physician, deductible, out-of pocket limit but the same 4% coinsurance percentage. Aetna will have an increase in Out-of-Network copays for the above physicians, deductibles, out-of-pocket limit, and coinsurance percentage 6%.
The Express Scripts plan will increase the covered brand name deductible to $200. from $150 as well as implementing a specialty drug tier with a 10% coinsurance and maximum per prescription fill limit of $500. Other health care program changes effective January of 2015 will be:
a) Continue the Health Care Assistance programs at $0 premium with an increase to the emergency room copayment to $150 from $50 and increase the covered brand-name drug copayment to $20 from $15 at retail, and to $40 from $30 for home delivery.
b) Continue Medicare Part B premium reimbursement at 2014 levels for plan years 2015 & 2016.
c) Limit Medicare Part B reimbursement to benefit recipients enrolled in an STRS Ohio Medicare plan.
d) Discontinue subsidies and Medicare Part B premium reimbursement for individuals who become survivors on or after Jan. 1, 2015.
e) Continue the current Delta Dental and Vision Service Plan programs for the next two year period 2015 and 2016.
f) Apply the same 2.2% subsidy multiplier used for the Aetna and Medical Mutual plans to the regional plans based solely upon the costs of the regional plans not to exceed the base plan subsidy.
Health care plan program changes effective January of 2016 will be:
a) Discontinue the Medical Mutual Plus Plan. The Medical Mutual Basic Plan will have an In-Network deductible of $2,500 and out-of- pocket of $4,000.
b) Aetna Plan will have the same In-Network reductions as in 2015 except the deductible will be $150 and will also have Skilled Nursing/Home Health Care of 2%. Out-of-Network will be the same as 2015 except that specialist physicians will be $55. and out-of-pocket will be $2,000, coinsurance will be 8%, and Skilled Nursing/ Home Health Care will be 4%.
c) Express Scripts will change the maximum allowable amount to the 2016 standard Medicare Part D limit
d) Discontinue AultCare, Health Span, and Paramount plans. Now I do not recall any motions or voting on this first peek at proposed changes in our health care program so maybe this first look at HC programs will be subject to change in the future.
A report from the Finance Department followed with explanations from Paul Snyder, the new head of STRS Finance, on the proposed budgets for 2014 and 2015. The components of the budgets are operating expenditures, capital expenditures, and state of Ohio requirements. The budget process involves the departments of Member Benefits, Finance, Investments, and Executive. All of these departments develop individual budgets. The budgets are then presented to the Executive Director and the senior staff. The budget timeline requires a review by the ORSC before adoption by the STRS Retirement Board. Apr. 24--Board Presentation (occurred today)  Apr. 25 -- Budget sent to the ORSC May 8th -- Anticipated presentation to ORSC  June 19th -- Adoption of budget by the Board. The operating budget overview proposed today involved many increases in everything from salaries and wages to repairs and maintenance to supplies and materials to travel/vehicles. Building improvements, computer software, equipment for information processing & maintenance totaled $1,597,500. State of OH requirements amounted to $300,000 for the ORSC with $60,000 for Attorney General reimbursement, and Treasurer check processing fees of $5,000.
A discussion of STRS Ohio Funding followed led by Paul Snyder in which key funding policy components were suggested and by the time they got to the end of the presentation, the Board members had more questions than answers, and they decided to take their time in determining what their funding policy would be. They agreed that this was a very important policy and must be developed after much consideration and discussion. So it will be taken up at a later Board meeting.
The next STRS Board Meeting will be held on May 14th, 15th, and 16th.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

STRSers, don't be afraid to appeal!

From John Curry, April 16, 2014
Patients Often Win If They Appeal A Denied Health Claim 
By Pauline Bartolone, Capital Public Radio 
Apr 14, 2014 
This KHN story was produced in collaboration with NPR
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Federal rules ensure that none of the millions of people who signed up for Obamacare can be denied insurance -- but there is no guarantee that all health services will be covered. 
To help make sure a patient's claims aren't improperly denied, the Affordable Care Act creates national standards allowing appeals to the insurer and, if necessary, to a third-party reviewer.
For Tony Simek, a software engineer in El Mirage, Ariz., appealing was the only way he was able to get additional treatment for sleep apnea. Though mild for many people, the condition had become life-threatening for Simek, who couldn’t get enough sleep.
"I had actually gotten to a place where I had fallen asleep while driving a vehicle," Simek says. "That's something that would normally have never ever happened to me."
Simek's doctor recommended he go to a lab to undergo another sleep study test to see if his night-time breathing machine needed adjustment. But his insurance company denied the test.
"I was rather surprised," Simek says, “so I reached out to my doctor to find out why. My doctor had been told [by the insurance company] that it was 'not medically necessary' in their judgment of my health condition."
Simek spent hours on the phone with the health plan, trying to get approval for the test. The insurance company responded with four denial letters. Simek has job-based health insurance through a California employer, so he filed an appeal with the California Department of Insurance.
"I have never had a problem with health insurance prior to this," Simek says.
Capital Public Radio in Sacramento analyzed multiyear data from California and found that about half the time a patient appeals a denied health claim to the state's regulators, the patient wins.
A 2011 GAO report sampling data from a handful of states before the health law took effect found that patients were successful 39 to 59 percent of the time when they appealed directly to the insurer. When appealing to a third party (such as the state insurance commissioner), patients also were often successful in getting the service in question – winning as many as 54 percent of such decisions in Maryland, for example.
"It's often very worthwhile for a consumer to appeal," says Cheryl Fish-Parcham, who directs the private insurance program at Families USA, a nonprofit that supports the health law. "It's a really important protection for people."
Until a few years ago, Fish-Parcham says, the rules regarding such appeals varied by state and employer.
"Insurers often get it wrong the first time," she says. "So if you've been denied a health care service, it might be because the plan didn't understand why that service was needed and why it fit their guidelines." Many consumers, she adds, are not exercising their appeal rights as much as they should.
Administrative errors are the source of many denials, says Peter Kongstvedt, a senior health policy faculty member at George Mason University.
"It can be an error on the health plan side," he says. "Maybe they put somebody in the system wrong and they don't know that [he or she is] eligible yet. Or a data entry error occurs, and the computer says, 'Oh, we don't pay for this service on that diagnosis,' — that type of thing." 
Other denials, like Simek's sleep test, are based on judgments of medical necessity. Insurers may consider a treatment experimental. Kongstvedt, a former executive in the managed health care industry, says such decisions require human discernment. 
"The computer doesn't — usually doesn't — make that decision," he says. "It simply flags it and then it gets reviewed — first by a nurse reviewer who then presents it, usually, to a medical director." 
Insurers say medical studies support their decisions.
"The more evidence that's available about the appropriateness and effectiveness of a particular drug or treatment or technology — that's what drives what's covered," says Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, an insurance industry trade group.
Zirkelbach says only about 3 percent of claims are denied. And, he adds, insurers support the strengthening of the appeals process under the Affordable Care Act.
"Health plans are committed to getting it right," he says.
Appealing a denial was the right thing for Tony Simek. Ultimately, a California regulator overruled his insurer, and Simek got the test.
"I have been sleeping well ever since," he says. 
This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes Capital Public Radio, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
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