Saturday, October 29, 2005

Wal-Mart's health care problems: a mirror on the nation?

New York Times
October 29, 2005

Wal-Mart's Health Care Struggle Is Corporate America's, Too


Back in the spring, amid relentless criticism that Wal-Mart Stores was failing to provide affordable health care to employees, executives at the company decided to take a detailed look at its benefits.

Wal-Mart knew its health costs were spiraling upward out of control, said M. Susan Chambers, the senior executive who led the initiative, but it was surprised to discover that its critics had a point.

Almost half of the children of employees were covered only by government social-service programs like Medicaid or had no insurance at all.

An internal memo to the Wal-Mart board by Ms. Chambers and her colleagues, which became public this week, candidly assessed this finding and proposed steps the company might take to address it - or at least blunt some of the criticisms it had been encountering.

While Ms. Chambers was quick to emphasize in an interview that Wal-Mart was not the only company with employees who use Medicaid, she said she was startled to find out just how reliant working people have become on government health programs. "It certainly did bring out for me the magnitude of the national problem," she said.

As the nation's largest employer, Wal-Mart cannot help but be entangled in the increasingly contentious debate over how best to provide health care to working Americans. Many of the company's 1.3 million employees are drawn from the most vulnerable part of the national labor pool: people who can find only low-paying jobs, who frequently cannot afford health coverage and who have no ability to absorb the kind of bank-breaking inflation in medical costs the country has experienced since the late 1990's.

For various social and economic reasons - including limited access to preventive medical care - low-income workers and their families often have the greatest health care needs, with the least ability to meet them. The Wal-Mart quandary involves a fundamental national issue: Who, if anyone, should provide care to the bulk of Americans.

"Whose responsibility is this?" said Carolyn Watts, a health professor at the University of Washington. "Is it the government's responsibility or the employer's?"

As health care costs continue to soar well above the general rate of inflation, Professor Watts says the United States can no longer rely on employers to provide widespread coverage and needs to grapple with that new reality. "It's a very different social contract than we have had," she said.

The controversy over Wal-Mart's benefits may mask what some experts see as an unraveling of the employer-based system of health coverage. "These are indications of the gaps in the health care system that are exposed by Wal-Mart," said Len Nichols, a health economist at the New America Foundation, an independent public policy group in Washington. "You can't blame Wal-Mart."

The Chambers memo offers an unusually frank and, at times, disturbing glimpse into Wal-Mart's struggle to achieve what are seemingly contradictory goals: to contain health care costs and to appease its critics. Even as Wal-Mart's health care bill, now $1.5 billion, has climbed 19 percent a year since 2002, it is insuring fewer than half of its employees.

While the memo outlines a series of fairly simple steps to expand coverage - at an additional cost of some $300 million a year by 2011 - it also recommends a wide-ranging set of initiatives to control costs, including one controversial proposal aimed at recruiting what the memo describes as "a healthier, more productive work force."

Perhaps the most unflattering element is the statistic that nearly half of the children of Wal-Mart employees are uninsured or on Medicaid, the federal and state insurance program for the poor.

For the nation's overall labor force, that portion is one-third, according to Wal-Mart.

But Wal-Mart is not alone in teetering on a tightrope between protecting profits and doing right by employees, a balancing act that is occurring throughout corporate America. Those facing similar situations include
General Motors, which has long been seen as the gold standard for health benefits but is now scaling back. Another is Starbucks, which cited the cost of its widely admired health benefits last year when it raised prices. And while Wal-Mart's discounter rival, Costco Wholesale, has taken a strikingly more generous approach to health care, it has come at the cost of rebukes from Wall Street.

"The underlying problem is the problem of affordability of health care in the United States," said Helen Darling, the president of the National Business Group on Health, a coalition of companies. Wal-Mart's critics, who include some state officials, say companies like it are shirking their duty and asking the taxpayers to pay the cost of their workers' care.

In Maryland this year, legislators passed a bill aimed at large employers like Wal-Mart that would force them to insure more of their employees. After intense lobbying by Wal-Mart and other opponents, Maryland's governor vetoed the bill. A similar proposal was narrowly defeated by California voters last year.

What the Wal-Mart memo does make clear is that the company's health care costs are increasing at a faster rate than its revenues, and they threaten to engulf an increasing share of future profits.

Many companies are reducing their own exposure by shifting an increasing share of the costs onto employees, asking them to pay more in premiums or to foot more of the bill at every doctor visit.

But Wal-Mart - and many other companies with similar work forces - does not have that luxury.

Nearly 40 percent of its employees already spend an average of 16 percent or more of their pay on health care - a level about four times the national average.

The Wal-Mart work force reflects a growing fear of many employers that the people who work for them are increasingly at risk for health problems. Many of Wal-Mart's employees are obese, the company says, and a result is rapidly rising numbers of cases of
diabetes or heart disease. The prevalence of these diseases among Wal-Mart employees is increasing much faster than the national average, it says.

"The low-income population generally is not as healthy and does not engage as much in preventive care," said Diane Rowland, executive director of the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. A risk that a company like Wal-Mart faces, especially when it competes with smaller retailers that offer no insurance at all, Ms. Rowland said, is attracting too many workers who want the job primarily for the health coverage.

Among the starkest - critics would say Darwinian - solutions the Wal-Mart memo explores is the idea of not hiring as many people who have health problems or risks. The memo suggests that the company could require all jobs to include some component of physical activity, like making cashiers gather shopping carts. It also recommends redesigning and expanding benefits to appeal to a different type of worker, someone more interested in buying a home, say, than in getting health insurance.

"These moves would also dissuade unhealthy people from coming to work at Wal-Mart," the memo said. The company also says a push toward more part-time workers - many of whom would either not be eligible for, or could not afford, whatever new health plan Wal-Mart might devise - will also lead to fewer people's needing coverage.

Lawyers and consultants said the company could run afoul of laws that prevent companies from discriminating against older workers or those with health issues.

A federal jury this year found that Wal-Mart was guilty of discriminating against an employee with
cerebral palsy by reassigning him to a job where he had to collect garbage and shopping carts.

The jury awarded him $7.5 million, although the amount was reduced to about $2.8 million, said the employee's lawyer, Douglas H. Wigdor. The company is currently operating under a consent decree by federal regulators because of similar behavior toward other employees, Mr. Wigdor said.

Ms. Chambers said the memo did not reflect any intention of discouraging people with medical problems from joining Wal-Mart but, rather, a concern about the lifestyle choices and health of its employees. She said the steps were meant to encourage people to be more active. "Does that mean we are not going to hire unhealthy people?" she said. "No."

The other initiatives represent a smattering of programs already embraced by other companies, like disease-management programs in which people with a specific illness are helped to take better care of themselves. Another step would be urging employees to go to doctors that provide good care at a reasonable cost.

Policy analysts say such measures offer no quick cure for the country's ills or anything that has a hint of real reform. One recommendation even harks back to the days of company doctors by suggesting that Wal-Mart consider expanding the customer health clinics available at a few of its stores to provide care for employees.

The company has already opened four of these customer clinics, which it said appeared to be a popular alternative for people who are uninsured and must pay out of pocket. Prices are clearly marked, and the company says the clinics are an affordable way for people to check out minor ailments like a sore throat or to have their blood sugar checked.

Most striking, perhaps, is that the many initiatives outlined by the memo would seem to accomplish so little financially - bringing down projected health costs from 2.3 percent of sales to something closer to 2 percent. Embracing even the most far-reaching suggestions, like recruiting healthier workers, might drive overall benefit costs to a level only a shade under 2 percent.

"As clever and strategic as it is," said Mr. Nichols, the economist, Wal-Mart's strategy "is not a solution to our long-term problem."

But Ms. Chambers said Wal-Mart realized that the current initiatives being discussed by corporate America only scratched the surface and that the company wanted to be part of any national dialogue about health care. "I feel," she said, "like we're dealing with symptoms - not causes."

Double dipping: how to line your pockets, block opportunities for others and screw the retirement system (STRS) all at the same time

Akron Beacon Journal

Sat, Oct. 29, 2005

Coventry has clever retirement plan

Superintendent takes a few days off so district can save thousands

By Katie Byard
Beacon Journal staff writer

Coventry schools Superintendent Gary Zoldesy plans to retire and then resume his job days later.

The move would allow him to collect his state pension benefits in addition to a salary.

The district would save at least $15,000 a year, as it no longer would pay Zoldesy's health insurance, said Treasurer Lee Ann Weisenmiller.

Also, the school board anticipates negotiating a lower salary for Zoldesy, who would work fewer days, board President Robert Wohlgamuth said.

Zoldesy's annual base pay is about $93,000.

He would join a growing number of public educators who are benefiting from a 2000 change in state law that allows them to retire, then return to their jobs and receive a pension and salary simultaneously.

Some have criticized the practice as ``double dipping'' and say it means fewer job and promotion opportunities for younger educators.

Some school districts, however, say they can benefit.

``It allows districts like us who are trying to save every penny. We can continue with the positive leadership we have and still save money,'' Weisenmiller said Friday.

Wohlgamuth said, ``School districts these days have to look for any way possible to save money.''

Zoldesy, 58, could not be reached for comment Friday.

The rehired retirees say they have paid into the State Teachers Retirement System and are entitled to the benefits.

State law calls for a school board to have a public discussion before re-employing the retiree.

Coventry will discuss the issue at 6 p.m. Nov. 22 at Coventry Junior High School, 3257 Cormany Road.

Zoldesy plans to retire Dec. 31 and return to his job Jan. 5.

He joined Coventry in 2003 as the overwhelming choice of a committee of district employees and parents who interviewed nine semifinalists for the superintendency. He previously was business manager for Warrensville Heights schools.

Friday, October 28, 2005

John Curry: Affordable health care at STRS? Some people think so!

Are they living in a dream world?

I just went to the mail box and pulled out my bound copy (thanks to Damon) of the September STRS Board meeting. Upon reading the condensed summaries of the public speakers presentation, I was amazed (again) to see that some people still feel STRS offers affordable health care coverage. I will include some of these summaries with the affordable health care part in italics as taken verbatum from the official minutes of the Sept. board meeting:

Ms.Darlene DePouw, of Groveport Madison Local Education Association, addressed the Board. Ms. DePouw said she believes the Board's Strategic Plan for Health Care is a well thought-out blueprint for containing costs, while maintaining access to high quality affordable care. She said she applauds the Board's effort to work with the Health Care Advocates and other Ohio retirement systems to find short-term solutions.

Ms. Maureen Reedy, a teacher in the Upper Arlington School District, addressed the Board. Ms. Reedy said affordable health care at retirement has been the No. 1 concern of active teachers and to continue to work to provide affordable health care and consider rolling-back the enhanced pension benefit at 35 years of service provided by S.B. 190.

Mr. Len Codispoti, representing OEA-R, addressed the Board. Mr. Codispoti commended the Board for its efforts to provide affordable health care and suggested: exploration of procurement options that provide the greatest hospital and physician discounts; use of generic drugs and evidence-based formulas that improve treatment, yet reduce costs; and encouraging active and retired educators to take greater involvement in maintaining their personal health and, at the same time, become wise consumers of health care services.

Mr. Tim Meyers, a teacher at Elida Middle School, addressed the Board. Mr. Meyers supports long-term continuation of affordable health care for current and future educator retirees. He said he is concerned about potential changes to S.B. 190 and a recent article regarding implementation of a defined contribution for future retirees to cover health care costs. (Mr. Myers is on the OEA Executive Council- these minutes didn't reflect this information-John)

Mr. David Bowen, representing himself and OEA-R, addressed the Board. Mr. Bowen said he appreciates the time and attention the Board has given the problem of health care funding and said he trusts it will continue to work toward a plan that will sustain adequate long-term affordable health care for current and future retirees. He also commended the board for its cooperation with the Health Care Advocates.

Ms. Phoebe Glenn, president of the Plain Local Education Association/New Albany School District, addressed the Board. Ms. voiced her support for the 35-year benefit and the security of affordable health care for current and future educator retirees.

In summation, 5 out of 6 speakers listed above have an OEA connection and apparently are under the false impression that STRS retirees currently HAVE affordable health care. Maybe they think $676 per month for a 30 year retiree and his/her spouse is affordable. Are they really aware of that FACT or are they living in a dream world?

John, a Proud CORE member

STRS Health Care discussion meetings currently being held around the state

For information on these meetings, including sign-up information, click on October 2005 under "Archives" (right-hand side of this blog page) and look in the October 14 postings. You may also go to the STRS website:


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Why increased contributions are imperative to save health care for all: Molly Janczyk


It has come to my attention that some educators hearing of the proposed plan for increasing active contributions to a fund dedicated for health care were DISTRAUGHT upon hearing that they would pay an add'tl $8 per paycheck (based on a $40,000 salary) even though they will receive a 3% - 4% salary increase based on their current salary. $8 dollars per ck would be the first year deduction. Each year the actives would go up .5% for 5 years to total 2.5% ultimately which = $40 missed each check total after 5 yrs. BUT each year they would also receive 3-4% raises based on each year's current salary so they will be earning approx. $500 hundred more by then and realizing $460 after the health care deduction.

Retirees never earn COLAS based on each year's pension but only on their first year of retirement. So, we are always losing more per year on a downhill spiral due to health costs increasing and inflation. We planned and did as we were told to provide for our retirements but no one told us in advance we'd face up to 800% increased in 3 years until AFTER WE RETIRED. We had our retirements robbed and paying these untenable and catastrophic costs have kept health care alive for future retirees with educator organizations stating such with written comments like 'retirees have been unfairly burdened.'

It is only fair that all educators help provide for their future health care and we only WISH someone had asked us to pay an addt'l $8 per ck vs. $600-800 per ck being taken without prior notice.

The health care fund will be used up at this rate as retirees cannot afford to maintain it. As actives we paid for our own health care and paid into the retiree fund for those retired just as anyone on Soc. Sec. does. BUT, the next generation pays for you.

Without the increased contributions of the first year of $8 up to $40 at the end of 5 years per ck THERE WILL BE NO HEALTH CARE FOR THE NEXT GENERATIONS OF RETIREES! Remember, actives still will average out at $500 raises over 5 years to cushion the top deduction at 5 years of $40.

Current retirees cannot afford their own healthcare at rates far beyond their capability of paying. Some retirees actually owe STRS after healthcare premiums are deducted. Current retirees were told we had healthcare second to none and as late as 2001, consultants were telling us we'd never have to worry about healthcare. Retirement literature told us NOT to purchase additional insurance which was not needed and would only erode our pension checks.

Then nearly overnight , our premiums soared and our deductibles and out of pocket maximums increased with our coinsurance going from being paid at 100% to only 80% making us pay for the 20% of medical costs. RX's went from $5 and $10 up to $30-150 for some RX's now down to maximum RX costs at $20-100 each for 90 day supply. The average retiree household has 20 RX's times those numbers. Add that to $500 each deductibles, $501 premium for spouse monthly and $148 beneficiary monthly, few hundred each month for RX's. 2006 premiums are up from current ones shown in presentation. They are only up 3% for 2006 to see how this year goes with this presentation and the new Medicare Part D RX program.

If you retire, you will pay: 2006: NON MEDICARE: Monthly premiums: $148 (self) $501 (spouse) $501 (dependents such as children if you still have them at home up to 22 yrs.)

RX's: $20, 50 or 100 each for 90 day supply times number per household and divided by 3 to get a monthly figure. (up to $1500 each person per yr.)

Out of pockets: $1500 medical (20% you pay up to $1500 each per yr.)

Deductibles: $500 each person in family including children.


Retirees paying for CATASTROPHIC coverage offered ONLY with :

Deductibles of: $1500 each person in family BEFORE ANY INSURANCE kicks in to help with costs.

Out of pockets :

$2500: each person pays this to meet their 20% up to $2500 each ($5000 max per family)


STRS pays up to a certain amount and then enrollee pays 100% of their RX's after that amount. This year's figure is STRS pays the first $3100. This area cost would depend on how healthy you remain and how many RX's you have to take that are not generic (generic: $20) or may be off formulary. STRS decides which drugs on are their list as formulary: brand name ($50 for 90 days) and which brand drugs they decide are not to be on their list (formulary) and so cost $100 each for 90 days. Some drugs which cannot be 90 day supplies and must be purchased retail monthly would be $10 , $25 and $50 respectively.

Please look this all over and decide how distraught to be over $8 per ck vs. paying these amounts upon retirement.

You cannot save enough to cover your retirement health care cost and also be retired. Increased contributions is the ONLY way to dedicate a stream of money for the health care fund and the only possibility that actives will have healthcare in their retirements as FUTURE actives will pay into the fund for YOU!

To have healthcare we must all help pay for it incrementally. This should have been done 15 yrs ago and had we been told of the dangers, we would have volunteered to actually have a retirement with benefits now! As it is, nearly all able, have returned to work to pay for our healthcare for ourselves and our spouses who pay 100% of the premiums and have access only to healthcare by doing so. Without this legislation, that may be all that any of you can expec: Catastrophic only coverage with huge deductibles, access only premiums with every person in family paying 100% of the health premiums plus other costs listed.


Professors: tuitions continue to rise and so you can be reasonably assured your salaries will as well.

RH Jones: Actives' projected raises exceed retirees' COLAs; compounding needed now

The BEACON, today10/27/05, front page of the Business Section D, mentions: "Most workers can expect a 3.5% raise next year -- same as this year, according to recent employer surveys." (END QUOTE)

The STRS retired teacher members cannot possibly expect to stay up with the increasing cost of living with a 3% simple COLA. It is hard to believe that taxpayers, school boards and active educators would not want a Compounded COLA for present & future retired educators.


Columbus Dispatch editorial: teachers not exempt from rising costs of health care

Time to face facts

Everyone has to pay part of health-care tab; teachers are not exempt

Columbus Dispatch
Monday, October 24, 2005

The Ohio School Boards Association says it might be ready to "start a war" if teachers and school districts are asked to pay a bigger share of retired teachers’ healthcare costs, but this is a war that can’t be won.

A move by the State Teachers Retirement System to seek a law allowing the system to raise members’ and employers’ contributions is a reasonable response to a problem that nearly everyone faces.

Schools and teachers cannot be held exempt from the rising cost of health care. Employers across the board face double-digit jumps in medical bills each year. If these expenses aren’t shared, they threaten to put many employers out of business and to bankrupt pension funds.

For Americans to continue enjoying the world’s best health care, everyone will have to pay more.

Most private-sector employees have seen their share of premiums and copays rise substantially in recent years.

Even the United Auto Workers, long the poster child for excessive benefit packages, agreed recently to a new pact with General Motors, under which retirees will pay up to $752 more per year toward their health care. The agreement could help stave off bankruptcy by cutting GM’s medical bills by $15 billion over seven years.

Government agencies, with taxpayers’ dollars at their disposal, have been slower to act. The resulting budget deficits are the predictable result.

Workers at Franklin County Children Services struck over the issue in the spring. The eventual contract was the first in county government to require any health-care payments from employees, but the agreed contribution for 2006 of $35 to $50 per month per employee is woefully inadequate.

A key issue holding up a new contract between the Central Ohio Transit Authority and Transit Workers Union Local 208 is how much workers should pay toward health-care coverage. To date, they have paid nothing.

A large part of the crippling deficit faced by Columbus Public Schools is the result of a $19 million overrun in the school district’s self-insurance fund for medical coverage.

By seeking a higher contribution from teachers and their employers, the State Teachers Retirement System is attempting to avoid such a crisis. The Ohio Supreme Court in May let stand a lower-court ruling that said the School Employees Retirement System has the right to charge retirees more for health insurance in response to rising costs.

Teachers and school boards understandably don’t want to pay more, but they should bear in mind that the system isn’t required to offer any healthcare coverage to retirees. This benefit began in an era when medical expenses were lower and the pension fund’s earnings easily could pay them, but that era is gone. The members’ insistence on a broad plan with minimal contributions could result in no coverage at all.

As the American people, and not just their employers, pay ever-accelerating medical costs, Congress and the president eventually will feel compelled to join most nations of the developed world and create a national healthcare program. It likely will be a no-frills plan, and those who want more will have to pay for it.

Until that time, employers need to stay in business and pension plans, including the State Teachers Retirement System, have a responsibility to remain solvent. So everyone, teachers included, will have to pay more for health care.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A strong case for a legislative increase in employer contribution to STRS: RH Jones

To all fellow taxpayers:

The OSBA and the OH legislature needs to realize that charter schools are a double unsuccessful misadventure. First, having both public and charter schools systems has been a double failure for the OSBA -- the resulting higher costs have strapped OH taxpaying families. The drain of tax dollars into charter schools has been a statistically proven failure. Second, as a consequence, the public schools have suffered as the professionally active and retired teachers have had to absorb and cope with diminishing school system budgets. Therefore, since public school district budgets mostly must go to employ professional educators; and, as trained educators seek employment elsewhere, the quality of K-12 education in OH has been deficient. A sound retirement system that offers HC/Rx, and a compounded cost of living, is undeniably part of a strong attraction to the education profession.

In moving the state's economy forward, the OSBA and the legislature should carefully consider increasing the 14% employer contribution to the STRS. A constantly shorted public education budget cannot get our state back where it should be. It has been proven that an educated population is a stimulus to the economy of the state.

Granted the state's economy is not what it should be, but we the taxpayers must "bite bullet" and do what is necessary for the public school educators of our children, our future.

RHJones, a taxpayer and a retired OH teacher

Lost in the Medicare maze: a Phi Beta Kappa scholar tries to figure out Medicare Part D (Prescription Drug Improvement?)

Lost in the Medicare maze

By Gilbert Cranberg
USA Today


My wife has a master's degree and worked for 50 years as a health care professional. I have a master of arts, plus a Phi Beta Kappa key.

For more than a half-century, I delved into, and commented on, complex public policy issues. We have ready access to advice from our children: two physicians, a lawyer and an insurance man.

Nevertheless, my wife and I are baffled by the incomprehensible turn Medicare has taken with passage of the Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003.

Acquaintances tell us they are equally at sea -- and drowning in sales pitches that began Oct. 1. Enrollees can begin signing up Nov. 15, though coverage won't start until January. In Iowa, where seniors are as ubiquitous as corn -- the state is No. 2 in elderly 85 and older and fifth in persons 65 and older --The Des Moines Register recently called for a moratorium on implementing the law, saying it is "massively expensive ... complex, confusing and could use a lot of fixing."

Our dose of reality

Hell hath no fury like seniors riled. And they will be furious once the full implications of what has been done to Medicare sink in.

My wife and I had a taste recently when we sought help from Iowa's Senior Health Insurance Information Program. The advice, from a retired insurance executive: The new prescription drug program is not a good deal, but we should sign up for it anyway because the 1% per person penalty per month for delay would force us -- if we changed our minds and enrolled after a year -- to pay 24% (12% per person) more each month for the rest of our lives. In other words, a program deemed not in our interests at the outset would get progressively worse.

As part of the law's design to privatize Medicare, enrollment in the prescription drug program can only be through private insurers that contract with the federal government. So seniors have to puzzle out multiple plans, each with its own charges, coverage and formulary to determine which, if any, is advantageous.

The prescription drug program is simplicity itself compared with what else awaits seniors. The big push to privatize lies in the Medicare Advantage component of the law, wherein the government lavishes tens of billions of dollars on private insurers to lure seniors from traditional Medicare to private coverage. In Medicare Advantage, seniors confront a maze of competing private plans and a whole new world of co-pays, deductibles and rules for physician choice.

My state insurance department adviser urged me to shun Medicare Advantage in favor of traditional Medicare. His advice accords with what The Register recently told its readers when it called the effort to lure seniors from traditional Medicare bad for beneficiaries, bad for taxpayers and bad for the country.

Beware of sticker shock

How bad hasn't even begun to sink in. Seniors will be hit, beginning Jan. 1, with a monthly Medicare premium increase of $10.30, to $88.50. The largest chunk of that increase, more than 13%, is accounted for by payments for Medicare Advantage. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services predict that the prescription drug benefit will save seniors "many hundreds of dollars" and Medicare Advantage, "on average," will save beneficiaries about $100 a month. That agency, however, is an arm of the Bush administration's Department of Health and Human Services, which is marketing Medicare Advantage.

Traditional Medicare has been popular, even revered. A poll in 2003 by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Kaiser Family Foundation found about 80% of seniors 65 or older viewed it favorably. That was before the privatizers went to work and made it virtually impenetrable.

And when it dawns on seniors that they are actually paying to undermine the program they so admired, look for fireworks.

Gilbert Cranberg is former editor of The Des Moines Register's editorial page

Columbus Dispatch: OSBA vs. retirees (Oct. 19 column)

Fight brewing over health-care costs

More money may be sought for retired teachers’ coverage

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Barnet D . Wolf

The State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio will face fierce opposition from school boards if it seeks legislation that would force school boards and teachers to pay more money for retiree health care.

"We will go public and start a war no one wants to fight," vowed John M. Brandt, executive director of the Ohio School Boards Association.

STRS and an affiliated group have scheduled meetings for teachers and other active members in 13 cities through Nov. 17 to explain a proposal for a "possible legislative initiative" that increases member and employer contributions.

The plan being discussed by STRS would raise employer and member maximum contribution levels by 0.5 percent each year for five years, eventually capping the support at 16.5 percent for employers and 12.5 percent for members.

Active members now pay 10 percent of their salary to STRS, while their employers — school boards, colleges and others — contribute 14 percent.

Those amounts are the maximum levels permitted under law, which went into effect nearly three decades ago.

Brandt called the proposed increases "shocking" and unneeded.

STRS is the state’s second-largest public-employee retirement system with $59 billion in assets, 213,000 active members and 115,000 retirees. It would move ahead with an effort to increase the legal contribution limits "only if we have overwhelming support," spokeswoman Laura Ecklar said.

The matter of retiree healthcare costs has loomed over discussions about Ohio’s large public-employee pension funds for several years.

Most of the retirement systems are at their maximum contribution levels. One exception is the state’s largest fund, the $67 billion Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, but even it will raise contribution levels in phases, starting next year, that will put the fund at its cap in 2008.

By law, the systems must pay for pension obligations first, because they are guaranteed by the state. Any money remaining can go for health benefits.

When the stock market slumped from 2000 to 2002, the systems had fewer dollars to underwrite health insurance. At the same time, health-care costs have increased by more than 10 percent per year. Retirees were left to pay significantly more for health-care coverage.

But they’re not alone.

Private-sector employers and employees also have seen health-care costs skyrocket, and costs are expected to rise 8 percent next year, according to a survey by Towers Perrin, a professional-services firm.

The health-care-coverage bill for companies and their workers is expected to average $8,424 next year. Employees will pay an average $155 per person more next year. The employers’ tab will rise $442.

Towers Perrin said workers in the private sector are paying 64 percent more in health-care costs now than five years ago; employers are paying 78 percent more.

The General Assembly could face some tough decisions about the future of STRS and the state’s other retirement systems, which will be watching the pension fund’s initiative.

Teachers’ meetings are slated to start Tuesday in Athens, followed the next day with one in Columbus. The final session is Nov. 17 in Cleveland.

The meetings are being promoted by STRS and the Health Care Advocates for STRS, which includes the Ohio Education Association, the Ohio Federation of Teachers, Ohio Retired Teachers Association and American Association of University Professors.

Ecklar said the meetings also were set up to inform active members about the health-care costs they’re likely to face when they retire.

"A lot of our teachers are not paying much for the health-care coverage they receive, and our research shows they don’t have much knowledge about what they are going to pay" at retirement, she said.

Below: text version of graphic (chart) accompanying Dispatch article of 10/19/05, “Fight brewing over health-care costs; More money may be sought for retired teachers’ coverage”

[Note: Since the graphic would not publish in my blog, I am resorting to this method of conveying the information shown in it. KB]

Topping out

A number of Ohio’s public-employee retirement systems have reached their maximum contributions levels under state law.

Below are listed the five state retirement systems. Across from each are four columns. The first two columns are Employee and Employer CURRENT contributions; the last two columns indicate Employee and Employer MAXIMUM contributions. The percentages are listed in this order.

Ohio Public Employees Retirement System1*: 8.5%; 13.3%; 10.0%; 14.0%
State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio: 10.0%; 14.0%; 10.0%; 14.0%
School Employees Retirement System2: 10.0%; 14.0%; 10.0%; 14.0%
Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund3: 10.0%; 19.5%; 10.0%; 19.5%
Ohio Highway Patrol Retirement System: 10.0%; 25.5%; 10.0%; 30.0%

*Contribution increases will be phased in to reach maximum level in 2008
1State government rates. There are higher employer-contribution levels and maximum contribution levels for local government and law-enforcement employers
2Does not include employer surcharge to members earning below a minimum compensation amount to fund health-care benefits
3Police employers. Firefighter employers pay 24 percent. The rates are set by statutes.

Source: Ohio Retirement Study Council

Sunday, October 23, 2005

John Curry to Jim Petro: Will you heed your obligation to protect our funds?

Mr Petro,

I will begin this open and brief letter to you by stating that I am a benefits recipient of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio and have dedicated 30 years to teaching Ohio's youth in an Ohio public school system. I wish to ask you what your office will do concerning the 1.75 million dollars that a Franklin Co. Court judge (Guy L. Reece II) has recently ruled belongs to the non-investments staff at Ohio STRS. This is 1.75 million dollars in bonuses that you requested your representative on the STRS Board to vote against (when you were an STRS Board member) when this issue was voted on by the STRS board. Since then, a class action law suit has been filed by several of the non-investment staff of the STRS against the STRS. As a result, the Franklin Co. judge ruled that this money is to go to the plaintiffs. Your office is obligated to fight for the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio to protect this money. Will you?

I'll put this into political perspective; you have put your hat into the ring to run for the Governor of the State of Ohio. There are over 100,000 STRS retirees. There are over 400,000 active teachers and non-actives who still have monies invested with STRS. These 500,000 people have spouses, families, and friends. They also will be watching to see how this is addressed or not addressed by your office. Will you heed your obligation to protect these 1.75 million dollars from a frivolous lawsuit based on bonuses that may have been promised or implied to the non-investments staff (all "at-will" employees - not contractual employees) during a time when STRS was losing billions of dollars in investments and retirees' health care premiums were skyrocketing?

Thank you, John Curry - a Proud CORE member (Concerned Ohio Retired Educators)


Curry and Tron: What is Caremark's "dirty little secret"?

From John Curry

Duane, I have a hunch ALSO that Caremark saw to it that in their contract with STRS -- there is a "dirty little secret" written into this contract that stipulates Caremark will be empowered to determine what information about the contract will be released to the public AND WHAT INFORMATION WON'T BE. Heck, I'll bet you a lunch in St. Paris that this is how our contract reads! John

From Duane Tron
October 23, 2005

Subject: Re: Caremark, a "Worsty" award, and lack of transparency to taxpayers

My take based on law is as follows: The law regarding PUBLIC disclosure for the care, use, expenditure,and investment of PUBLIC funds should take precedent over any such agreement! This should render any such agreement null and void because it violates the ORC and Federal Law. In other words it IS against the law to agree to any such deal. The STRS HC negotiating component is in violation of LAW, as well as CareMark. This is the exact reason such laws exist and that is because of the mess they have uncovered in Illinois. The only time the law can be side stepped is when it involves a matter of National Security. This means when it threatens the security and safety of the people of the United States. These types of agreements don't involve national security!!

Our funds are public money subject to public scrutiny! As usual we have another court ruling in Ohio where the judge doesn't know the law and obviously doesn't know his you know what from a hole in the ground. This is another one of those situations where we have Ohio judges making law and legislating from the bench! We need to challenge this and we need to challenge it now! Trade secrets my you know what??!!! This is simply a cover for possible corruption!

We need to look for a law firm that has taken on PBM's and contact them ASAP. We should ask them to take it on contingency and have the illustrious Judge Reece order them to reimburse our attorney fees and expenses like he has done for the non-investment staff at STRS. What's good for them should be good for Ohio's outstanding retired teachers who have devoted our lives to teaching young people for substandard pay and in substandard working conditions. Do you think???!! We have to really start pushing the envelope with these people. Up until now they have just been patronizing us. They throw us a crumb here and a crumb there to keep us at bay and to-date it's been working. My take for what it's worth!

From John Curry
Sunday, October 23, 2005

This is the same "stonewall" CORE member Nancy Hamant met with when the Warren Co. Retired Teachers Assn. took STRS to court to see their contract between Caremark (a pharmacy benefits manager of our Rx program) and the Ohio STRS. The suit was "slapped down" due to a sweetheart clause written into the law to protect this information under the guise of this information being a "TRADE SECRET!" The PBM's win this in every instance and the public be damned- even on public contracts such as the STRS/Caremark contract and the the good people of Illinois. John, a Proud CORE member

From ( a central Illinois news website)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Greenberg: Being awarded a 'Worsty' is not a good thing

A little more than a week ago, we found out The Pantagraph played a role in helping some government officials win a new -- and dubious -- honor.

The Illinois Press Association announced the first "Worsty" awards -- the top 10 Opening Meetings Act violations and top 10 Freedom of Information Act violations.

The purpose of the annual awards is to stop granting them because we eventually have no violations.

We've got a long way to go.

"Despite increased vigilance by our organization, the attorney general's office, and other watchdog groups, the abuses of these two access laws continue to escalate. These new 'awards' will identify the worst offenders each year. We hope that this will help to curtail future abuses," said Larry Green, president/publisher of Pioneer Press newspapers and chairman of IPA's government relations committee.

Pantagraph Publisher Linda Lindus, who serves on the government relations committee, said, "The 'Worsties' are a sad commentary on the misunderstanding of the public's business by public bodies or officials."

Chris Doyle, publisher of one of our sister papers, the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, has been one of those coordinating the "Worsties."

Doyle announced the awards Oct. 14 at IPA's annual convention in Springfield. "We will announce only the top 10 violators in each category, but there are hundreds of examples from which to choose throughout the state that could be considered. The ... problem continues to spiral out of control," Doyle said.

The two instances we reported on were in the Freedom of Information Act category.

The Pantagraph, three other papers and The Associated Press all reported earlier this year about a state government contract with a company that made it next to impossible for the public to find out how our money is being spent.

At the "Worsties" presentation, we heard the following:

"The state Department of Central Management Services denied a Freedom of Information request filed by state Senators Dale Righter of Charleston and Peter Roskam from the Chicago suburbs to see a copy of the state's contract with Caremark RX Inc.

"Caremark, a Tennessee-based company, manages pharmacy benefits for some 225,000 state government workers, dependents and retirees. The agency released only a copy of the contract that was redacted, with much of the most important information missing.

"Incredibly, Caremark went to court to prevent the release of the publicly funded contract to publicly elected officials. The dirty little secret contained in the contract between Caremark and the state of Illinois was a provision that gave Caremark the authority to determine what information would be released ... the private company contracting with the state controlled what public information would be released. The state not only agreed to allow it to happen, it codified it in a contract."

We also heard about a "Worsty" heading to Ford County. "Ford County Sheriff Bill Kean refused to turn over his department's employment policy manual to the County Board. The County Board filed an FOI request formally asking for access to the manual. Sheriff Kean denied the request on the grounds he believes the County Board has no right to intrude in the operation of his department. County Board members, meanwhile, said they need the information for insurance coverage and other purposes."

Doug Ray, president and CEO of the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights and the new IPA board president, underscored the lack of penalties for violators of the two acts. He said there's little consequence or punishment when local government officials abuse their authority by not complying with the acts.

"The IPA is a private newspaper association, and we don't have the authority to hold violators accountable for their actions," Ray said.

Even though a newspaper group is organizing these "awards" -- this is not a media issue. It's your issue more than ours.

The public's business should be done in public, and that's becoming more difficult for a number of reasons.

And after more than 25 years in the newspaper business, I realize a lot of these violations are done in ignorance.

But many are not.

Doing the public's business in public can be difficult. But there's no other way for a democracy to work. Here's hoping the "Worsties" have a short life -- although I'm afraid that won't happen.

Terry Greenberg is editor of The Pantagraph. Contact him at (309) 820-3230 or at

John Curry to Bill Leibensperger: please help us understand some things before OEA and CORE sit on the same side of the table

Bill, after talking to Molly, I understand you believe that some of Dr. Leone's findings might have been exaggerated. Please correct me if that's not the case. Below is a list of items Dr. Leone has given as examples misspending and mismanagement at Ohio STRS. Would you please comment on any item or items below that you feel is not completely truthful and factual and/or any other items that you think Dennis might have not portrayed properly? This would be an excellent opportunity for you and the OEA to enlighten tens of thousands of STRS retirees who are still waiting for an explanation of why your OEA President Gary Allen said that Dr. Leone's "logic is hard to follow," and that "his motives are unclear." This may help us understand for once and for all. Now would be an excellent time to clear up any disagreements your organization may have with Leone's findings before your organization and my organization sit on the same side of the table to tell Ohio voters why increased contribution rates are necessary Thank you.

John Curry, a Proud CORE member

P.S. I would have asked you this in person this past Thursday at the STRS meeting, but I had to work (after my STRS retirement). I simply can't afford what many recent OEA member speakers to the STRS board in the September meeting portrayed to the Board as a CURRENTLY "affordable" health care insurance offering to my spouse and I by STRS.

The following represent a number of spending abuses discovered by Dennis Leone that occurred at STRS since 1995.

1. $94.2 million on the new STRS headquarters.

2. $869,235 on artwork, sculptures and polished stones for the new STRS building.

3. $818,000 on a child care services center for the children of STRS employees.

4. $500,000 per year to run the child care services center.

5. $426,000 on a fitness center in the STRS building.

6. $88,397 per year to provide food services for STRS employees.

7. $428,056 on 16 cars, vans, and SUV's.

8. STRS Board policy that permitted staff members to drive STRS vehicles for personal use, and the family members of said employees to drive said vehicles.

9. 52 American Express Credit Cards and 20 BG gas cards used Board members and STRS staff members.

10. Alcohol purchases occurred by staff members and Board members attending conferences -- using STRS credit cards.

11. $18,810 on "Discovery Park" gala event, including the purchase of disposable cameras for attendees.

12. $15,100 on new STRS building dedication, including alcohol and gifts for attendees, as well as airfare and lodging for out-of-town STRS visitors.

13. $4,100 on a private retirement party for an STRS Board member.

14. $5,594 on poinsettias to decorate STRS during the holiday season in 2002.

15. $1,000 dinners for 12 board members/staff members on 2 occasions, again with alcohol.

16. $7,116 for baseball tickets, concert tickets, movie rentals, and Kings Island tickets for STRS employees in the summer of 2003 for "team building."

17. $530,284 spent by Board on trips and meetings around the country in 2000, 2001, and 2002.

18. Multiple trips taken by Board members and staff to places like Honolulu, Palm Springs, Kiawah Island, and Anchorage. A planned trip to China in 1995 was cancelled after it was suggested that it would have the appearance of junketeering.

19. Frequent occurrences of at least 6 Board members going to the same meeting, sometimes twice a year, costing STRS over $9,000 each year.

20. $36,736 spent by a Board member Jack Chapman in a single year for trips all over the country.

21. $1,017 airplane ticket for a Board member that would have cost $258 if it had been purchased 30 days in advance of the conference.

22. $1 million cash payback per year to full-time STRS employees for 18 days of unused staff vacation days and unused sick leave.

23. Total administrative expenses at STRS increased 17.4% per year between 1996 and 2002.

24. Total STRS employees increased from 414 to 725 between 1996 and 2002.

25. A total of 1,035 employee bonus checks were issued to STRS staff in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

26. $24.4 million was awared in bonus checks to employees between 1998 and 2003.

27. $3.2 million had to be paid by STRS to PERS because of bonuses alone since 1998 to satisfy that pension system's 13.31% annual employee contribution requirement. STRS employees are members of PERS.

28. 34 STRS employees in 2002 received bonus checks in excess of $40,000 (with 18 of those getting bonuses in excess of $70,000).

29. One STRS employee received bonus checks of $110,000 and $68,800 in 2001 on top his base salary of $164,000.

30. Over 150 STRS employees had base salaries over $100,000 in 2002, with 32 of those making over $155,000 -- topping the salaries of both the governor and the chief justice of the State Supreme Court.

31. A total of $39,251 was paid to the Perry Local School District by STRS in 2002 and 2003 for sub teacher costs for Board member Michael Billirakis (when he attended STRS meetings), even though he did not have a position in the school district. NEA pays Perry Local the dollar amount associated with the salary and beneifts for Billirakis, enabling him to be listed as an employee.

32. Excess STRS furniture was sold to STRS employees in 2000 and 2001 for $27,703, and instead of this amount going back into the pension fund, it was given to charities.

33. The regular work week for STRS employees is 37 1/2 hours.

34. If an STRS employee adopts a child, the STRS Board awards a $5,000 cash gift to said employee.

35. Between 1999 and 2004, the STRS Board paid out $2.1 million in educational stipends for STRS employees to take college courses. This amount was double what the other 4 public pension systems in Ohio paid out combined over the same time period. STRS pays up to $7,000 per year (per employee) for undergraduate or graduate work.

Another example of hospitals billing YOU instead of the insurance company

From Molly Janczyk
Saturday, October 22, 2005
Subject: Hospital Bills

It appears the hospital, Mt Carmel, that treated my mother is trying to get more money from me. She has died. They sent me a bill for $11,308 stating due upon receipt NOW. Their staff will help me make payments they state.

I called and left the message I had indeed rec'd a bill trying to address a period of time already paid for...............they took that period and rebilled was billed inpatient and one outpatient. I informed them it had been paid per Med. Mut. and I was NOT responsible for another payment after Medicare and Med Mut. paid them. If they had a problem they should contact Med Mutual and Medicare but Med Mut had already told me NOT to pay and I was NOT responsible.
This is an example of how folks get caught in thinking they owe beyond what they do. Mt Carmel was in network for my mother and they must except what Medicare and Med Mut.'s Usual customary Rate (UCR).

My mother, now deceased, does not owe more than her deductible and max out of pockets THRU OPERS which is less than STRS.

Many folks fall for this. NEVER PAY MORE THAN YOUR INSURANCE PROVIDER TELLS YOU IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY which IS NEVER MORE THAN YOUR DEDUC ($500) AND $1500 OUT OF POCKET FOR STRS. Each person has a $2000 max for medical costs IN NETWORK. If you go out of network, you start a new deductible of $1000 I believe and $3000 out of pocket.

So always check that your medical providers are IN NETWORK OF "MED MUT PLUS", not just Med Mut. which has many plans.

Molly Janczyk

John Curry to John Brandt: Where was the OSBA during the big spending spree at STRS?

Mr. Brandt,

I do realize that your organization has and will continue to take a hard-line position on any proposed increases in the employer contribution rate to STRS. There has been a considerable amount of misspending, mismanagement, and entitlement philosphy during the reign of the "old" STRS Board. This brings me to this question: Why was the OSBA silent concerning this misspending, mismanagement, and entitlements when these were being practiced at STRS. After all, 14% of every earned "teacher dollar" of the monies that your boards contributed to STRS were involved. If I am incorrect about your organization's lack of criticism of the STRS for doing what they did, please enlighten me by sending copies of any and all critical articles or news releases issued by your organization against these STRS practices. Thank you.

John Curry - a Proud CORE member

Duane Tron: WHO didn't plan properly, Mr. Brandt?

Duane to Molly
Oct. 22, 2005

I told you he is another uncaring idiot that knows nothing about anything. He tells us it's our problem because we didn't plan adequately for our retirement??!! Many of us did plan adequately and this is why we haven't lost our house, car among other things. We did save and lost a bundle to the "fat" cats in 2002 when the market went south.

Those of us working in the poor and rural schools were at a decided disadvantage when it came to saving a lot as our pay was very LOW. We worked for most of our careers at substandard wages in substandard working conditions. And this jerk, the president of OSBA, has the unmitigated nerve to imply that we didn't plan properly??!! We did plan based on the pitiful wages we earned over 25-30 years. Let's see??!! It took me nearly ten years to pay off my student loans since my family couldn't afford to pay for me to attend college. I joined the military and used the GI Bill to help offset my college expenses.

I was then told that I NEEDED to return to college and obtain a Master's Degree, in addition to ongoing CEU's, to upgrade my certification. Did any of the school systems I worked for reimburse or pay for any of the thousands of dollars I expended during this time??!! NOT!!!

Mr. Brandt wishes to imply that we didn't plan properly! With what??! I spent another seven years paying off the loans I needed to obtain my Master's Degree! I spent 17 years of my teaching career paying back money I borrowed so I could become an impoverished teacher. I guess Mr. Brandt assumes we all were born with silver spoons in our mouths? I guess he assumes we all graduated from high school and went to college and started working in the high dollar school systems!!

When I quit my job in 1970 to start teaching it took me 15 years to get back to the salary I was making in the corporate sector before I chose to become a teacher. Imagine that??!! Then this Mr. Brandt wants to engage us and accuse us of poor planning! Oh! I forgot! As soon as I paid off my loan for my Master's I had to start paying for my daughter to attend college. Unlike our parents my wife and I promised our daughter that we would pay for her attend college. The last of her student loans will be paid off next year. Imagine that??!!

Mr. Brandt has his head up his you know what but that doesn't surprise me. There seem to be a lot of people with their heads up their you know what's these days!! It has reached epidemic proportions in Ohio.

Molly he said he doesn't know anything about your personal circumstances among other things. It wasn't in plain text, as it was on WordPad, and I had to try and decipher what he sent you. I'll try and send it to you so you can see what kind of morons we're dealing with. There weren't any surprises in anything he said! Just another uncaring and insensitive political hack who thinks he knows a lot about a lot of things, and knows very little about anything!!! My take for what it's worth!!


More correspondence with John Brandt (Molly Janczyk and Jim Kimmel)

From John Brandt
October 21, 2005

Subject: Re: Today's news release re. proposed increases in contribution rates to STRS

Ms Janczyk I don't think you and I will ever find common ground on this matter. I'll make a few final points

1. STRS revenue has grown considerably over the years. Contribution rates are a percentage of payroll and payroll usually meets or exceeds inflation. Further, STRS has a very sophisticated investment operation and they generally exceed the average stock market return.

2. GM, airlines and others are reducing beefits that affect both active and retired employees. Today's Columbus Dispatch has a story about Honda benefit reductions. Teachers are not the only ones facing this terrible problem.

3. You are exactly right that people should have known that costs might catch up with revenues. You should be asking STRS why they did not manage their resources better for years. For many years STRS paid all retirees an extra 13th check. On more than one occasion they went to the Legislature and obtained approval for expensive changes in the formula for calculating retirement benefits. You and your colleagues sat back and allowed those things to happen and nobody cared that STRS might need that money down the road. Now you and STRS have to pay the price for that spending.

My correspondence with you has been informative and I truly have sympathy for the difficulties you face. I am not saying "make do", I'm saying that work needs to be done to make STRS benefits work as well as possible for all members. You can't avoid that work by simply asking for someone else to pay the bill.

John M Brandt

From Molly
October 21, 2005

I am reactive to your initial comments. However, STRS has made reductions and no amount at this point will cover the untendable and catastrophic increases which occurred in a short period. Your thinking does not allow for inflation and increases over a 20-30 year timeline. It is that simple. Do YOU ask for for more for YOUR benefits and work or simply made do with YOUR consideration assets from 20-30 years ago. Costs increase. When they do, more money is needed. With this line of thinking, NO ONE should EVER get increases but simply make do. Pensions have to be paid and unfunded liability needs reasonable planning. HC suffers and with it, retirees have faced losing homes, assests and refuse medical care. YOU know all this and simply saying make do is not in any way acceptable. GM should make do. Airlines should make do. Welfare recipients should make do. Costs have increased beyond anyone's expectations and you know that as well.

To say STRS has this much money does not break down where that money goes. Perhaps YOU need look at the figures and tell them WHERE the HC should come from. Many were promised HC and pensions and lost both. So, that is the problem, for you, and that is that. NO increases should EVER be made incrementally to cover soaring prices and allow educators respectability and security.

The problem is: We became educators for little and only wanted modest retirements to teach your children. But you and the taxpayers wish to turn your backs on us and simply say make do. Well, retirement has been taken and all who can returned to work and we still cannot make do. Yes, we saved and planned. But educators do not make enough to save enough to EVER pay for HC and few better off can pay for it either.

Simplistic thinking and leaves no room for solutions. Staying with 14% for 20-30 yrs HAD to catch up someday. DID YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THAT? There is no other way and you know this as well.

Molly J.

From John Brandt
Oct 21, 2005

Ms Janczyk

I have no intention of insulting you and I don't believe I am. I have not referred to you as "insulting and superficial" or "rigid in your thinking." You might want to think about who is being insulting. You have put your finger on the problem. It appears that STRS misled you into relying on their health care benefits when they had no right to do so. You should be angry at them, not me. All I have said is that STRS should not fix its problems by taking money away from public education. STRS, you and your colleagues should be discussing ways to get the maximum value out of the considerable resources available to the system. STRS,. OEA and others have had a committee working for years on dealing with the health care problem. After all that work, the best they can do is to simply ask for more money rather than buckle down and make some difficult decisions

John M Brandt

From Molly
October 20, 2005

Mr. Brandt, I actually have to face my problems. I am, sir and I always have. However, STRS in effect did promise me health care and many other current retirees. We have the literature to prove it. 'HC second to none.. ..........It is not necessary for you to purchase other insurance which would erode your pension.' Consults with counselors who said we'd never have to worry about health care many times. Promissory Estoppel:

1. We were made a promise.

2. It was reasonable to believe it based on decades of literature and rhetoric.

3. I changed behavior as a result. We didn't purchase other HC. Your tone and reasoning is insulting and superficial. I have heard you are rigid in your thinking and just no is no. Your thinking says: I am a fool to have believed my pension system's literature and consults for many years. Therefore it is my problem to deal with.

I have been told by those taxpayers you mention that it is my responsibility, not theirs, to educate their child when I asked for homework as simple as even practice reading and study math facts, never mind finish work, projects, etc. not done in school. WHY do those taxpayers think we work with their children? WHY do they work? Rates and benefits have to be competitive with other state jobs or they will not become educators or stay in the field. WHAT DO YOU think maintains good education? Oh, just the pure joy! Correct? Answer, YES! But we have families and health problems like all others we need to address and we did.

To keep good educators, YOU have to do something to attract them, not just complain or say no to use your logic. 2-3 decades of the same contribution % will not keep educators nor attract them. WOULD YOU like to be an educator in Ohio right now? Ohio is NOT competitive in education funding of any kind and ranks poorly always with attention to educational issues.

Inflation, I am sure you are familiar with that term, increases many times over 2-3 decades and yet no incremental contribution increases to deal with it. Taxpayers want quality education and quality graduates to make Ohio competitive which it is no longer. Without attractive benefits for educators, Ohio continues to lose. You can't just say you want that and do nothing to keep it. Incremental increases preserves a profession long undervalued. Thank you.

Molly J.

From Jim Kimmel
October 21, 2005
Subject: Increase STRS Deductions

Mr. Brandt:

You need to understand that any increase in payroll deductions for the active teachers will help them in the future as well. Otherwise it will be even worse for them than it is now for those of us facing exorbitant health insurance premiums and no 13th check. As a representative of OSBA you are trying to treat us retirees the same as you treat teachers who come to you for a raise -- blame us for it all!.I also think you are more concerned about the amount of money taken from school board coffers than from the paychecks of teachers.

Why are you not complaining about the fact that rehires take STRS health care instead of receiving health insurance from local boards? The same reason you oppose any rate hikes to schools from STRS. That reason is that you do not want to pay your fair share. When I was teaching I did not mind a small increase in STRS withholding for promise of a better retirement later on. Most won't -- unless of course you and the OEA try to play actives and retirees against each other.

Before you complain about any increases why not have schools start paying the health insurance of rehires? And by the way- these same experienced educators, formerly at the top of the pay scale, come back at a much lower pay scale yet bring their expertise and experience with them. What a Deal! And yet you accuse retirees of asking too much.If you insist on the free ride of rehires' health insurance paid by STRS and experienced rehires at bargain basement rates then you can certainly pay a little more to STRS.for the benefit of the retirees who taught many of those now teaching.

One other thing -- I really resent your attempt to somehow implicate retirees in the wasteful spending at STRS. We never asked for any of the perks (we never got any) and expensive actions at STRS.You should apologize to ALL RETIREES for that statement. We are the victims, not the perpetrators. As you know those perpetrators are being prosecuted as I write this.

I think it was Ayn Rand who wrote in a novel that "Some people count, and some people don't." I guess if you believe that I have wasted my time in writing this letter. Have you considered moving to Alaska? You might be more comfortable in a place where they just put the old people out on the ice when they can no longer be profitable.

James O. Kimmel
Proud CORE Member
STRS Retiree

Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
web page counter
Vermont Teddy Bear Company