Friday, July 14, 2006
Sondra Stratton to Ramser, Fisher and Taft: We need Tom Hall on the STRS Board
Conni: Please stick to the issues, not personalities
From Sondra Stratton: VSP Alert
Comments from Nancy Hamant and John Curry re: Dr. Puckett
Letter to Gov. Taft: Appoint Tom Hall to STRS Board
Professor Tom Hall of Miami University holds a doctorate in economics, with experience at the US State Department Bureau of Economics and Business Affairs, serving on the Planning and Economic Analysis Staff. He has authored numerous books and articles on business cycles, market structure performance, velocity and variability of monetary growth, economic fluctuations and productivity. His prolific background and expertise in investments, market trends and economics enable Tom Hall to bring his valuable skills and knowledge to the STRS Board. He understands how the economy operates and factors which impact the values of stocks, bonds, and real estate, which constitute the bulk of the STRS investment portfolio.
Evelyn Cuthbert: Fisher's resignation
Letter to Dr. Zelman: Time to replace Puckett
To: Dr. Susan T. Zelman,
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
From: Kathie Bracy
Re: Dr. Steven Puckett
Dear Dr. Zelman,
I wish to call your attention to your representative on the STRS Board, Dr. Steven Puckett.
I would like to know if you have provided any kind of personal oversight regarding his performance on the Board. If you haven't, then you need to. If you have, then I am extremely disappointed in your performance standards as a member of this Board.
I have been closely observing the Board for about two years. There is a saying that goes “Do something; lead, follow or get out of the way.” It is time for Dr. Puckett to get out of the way, because I see absolutely no effort on his part to lead or follow in any manner beneficial to retirees.
Furthermore, his overall attitude is abominable. Watching him, one gets the impression he would rather be anywhere except inside the STRS building, particularly the sixth floor Board Room.
When Jim Petro and Betty Montgomery’s representatives sat on the Board, no apparent oversight was provided, and STRS sank to the lowest, most shameful period in its history. Retirees will pay forever for the corruption that was rampant under the Retirement Board of that era, in terms of dollars and shortened lives.
To continue allowing Dr. Puckett to represent you will indicate that either (a) you do not provide oversight or (b) you simply don't care.
There are thousands of retirees who DO care, as their lives depend on the decisions of that Board, and it is imperative that only the best people be selected to serve. We deserve better than what Dr. Puckett has to offer.
Please rescind Dr. Puckett’s appointment as your representative on the STRS Board as soon as possible and find a more suitable replacement; someone who is truly interested in helping the membership, and preferably one who is a member of STRS him/herself. If you care, you need to show it.
37.7 year STRS retiree
STRS Board observer
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Al Rhonemus: Kudos for Dennis and John
Dennis Leone to Molly Ganz: 'Just 2 people with similar concerns'
Subject: Fisher & Ramser
Reactions continue from around the state re: Fisher resignation
John Curry's commentary on Fisher's resignation: Some Board members need to read/reread ORC 3307.15
Reactions to Fisher's resignation
From Elfrieda Ramseyer:
Paul Kostyu on Fisher's resignation
Judith Dunn Fisher, a former chief financial officer for Huntington Bancshares, told Gov. Bob Taft in a letter dated June 30 that she was driven to resign by “the inability and/or unwillingness of the STRS board (and its leadership) to ensure that civility and respect are ... provided for all Board discussion and deliberation.”
Taft appointed the suburban Columbus resident as an investment expert to the board on Sept. 28, 2004, for a four-year term.
Fisher’s letter said one board member was “solely responsible for my resignation — verbally castigating, impugning and maligning Board actions, behaving ... in an emotionally abusive manner on repeated occasions.”
The letter does not identify the person, and Fisher repeatedly refused to do so in an interview.
But Constance K. Ramser, a teacher at Jackson Local Schools and new chair of the STRS board, said Fisher is referring to Dennis Leone, a former superintendent who represents retirees. Three years ago, Leone was largely responsible for disclosing problems about how the board and system were operating. He was elected last year.
“Dr. Leone tends to be a bit explosive at times,” Ramser said. “As a result, there have been instances within the board room and personal instances many of us have experienced, where he’s personally crossed the line. If he was a student in my classroom, he would have probably been suspended. Basic civility you learn as a child. At some point, an adult has to act like an adult.”
“That’s unbelievable,” Leone said.
Leone called Fisher’s letter “a hit-and-run” attack. She’s not being driven off. If she can’t handle it, then she shouldn’t be on the board.”
Leone said he intends to write Taft about what qualities are needed in Fisher’s replacement.
Leone defended his behavior, saying he is looking out for the interests of STRS members by improving pension-fund policies. He said the board often has rejected his efforts. He acknowledged, however, that STRS, which has a $65.1 billion portfolio and 439,000 members, operates better today than three years ago.
Mark L. Rickel, Taft’s press secretary, said the letter was the first time the governor had heard about Fisher’s problems. Taft will choose a replacement as soon as possible, Rickel said.
Board member John Lazares, who often backs Leone’s efforts, called Fisher’s and Ramser’s description “ridiculous.”
“All the members ought to thank God for having Dennis on the board. He’s trying to protect and defend the active and retired members.”
Lazares said Leone “is emotional, and (Fisher) doesn’t like him.” He drew a difference between her experience with private boards and Leone’s experience with public boards. “We’re dealing with public dollars,” he said.
Though Fisher criticized leadership of the board for not controlling Leone’s behavior, Ramser said efforts were made to do so but that they were unsuccessful. “How much parenting (of Leone) should I do as an adult?” she said.
Leone said he was “disappointed in Connie” for her description of his behavior and that no one has asked him to change.
Reach Copley Columbus Bureau Chief Paul E. Kostyu at (614) 222-8901 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Molly to Gov. Taft: Why Tom Hall should be considered for appointment to STRS Board
Date: Wed, 8 Feb 2006
1. Focus on holding down the costs of operating STRS. This means running STRS in a financially prudent manner, minimizing overhead, avoiding administrative bloat, and not allowing board members, or anyone else for that matter, to treat the investment portfolio as a pot they can dip into as they please.
2. Intelligently oversee the management of the investment portfolio. This includes ensuring that STRS investments are safe and properly diversified.
3. Strictly adhere to Ohio Revised Code Section 3307.15 which states that STRS Board members must act solely on the behalf of STRS members and their beneficiaries.
4. Work to find avenues which will permit the continuance of health care and prescription drug benefits at current or possibly reduced cost to STRS retirees.
5. Communicate with and be responsive to all members including retirees.
6. Support and lobby for state legislation that benefits STRS members.
Molly urges the governor to appoint Tom Hall to STRS Board
13,200 votes were cast for him, a virtual unknown, because of his impressive credentials.
Molly Janczyk on Judith Fisher's resignation
Are You Being Overcharged for Medical Care?
By Sid Kirchheimer, AARP Bulletin
Three-quarters of hospital bills have overcharges, and the average overcharge is about $1,000, according to People’s Medical Society, a nonprofit medical consumer rights organization. Doctors, too, are handing inflated bills to patients. Good news: It’s simple to fight back.
If your health insurance completely covers hospital and doctor visits, these steps might not be necessary, though making the extra effort to eliminate overcharges can help bring down medical costs for everyone. Also, be aware that your insurance coverage might not be as comprehensive as you thing – call your insurance carrier or review the exclusions section of your policy.
To avoid paying more than you should…
Negotiate. If you have no health insurance, ask your doctor for a discount. Only 13% of patients ever make this request, but when they do, the majority secure a lower price, according to a survey of 2,118 adults conducted by Harris Interactive.
Ask the doctor in person. Requests made by phone or to an office assistant rarely work.
Keep in mind that insurance companies typically pay doctors one-half to two-thirds of the billed amount. If you will be paying out-of-pocket, you can offer to pay somewhere in that range when negotiating a price.
Get blood tests done at a lab. When your doctor does a blood test, he/she charges you for the office visit … plus an added fee for drawing your blood … plus the amount a lab charges to run the test.
Ask the doctor to waive his fees, or go directly to a lab to have the test done and pay only for the test (ask the doctor to supply any necessary paperwork).
Look in your local yellow pages under “Laboratories – Clinical, Medical, Diagnostic” or “Laboratories – Testing” for labs in your area.
Don’t pay for the follow-up visit. When you see a doctor about a health problem, you often have to see him again a few weeks later to confirm that the treatment was successful. Chances are, your doctor will look you over for a few seconds during this follow-up, pronounce you well – then bill you another $50 to $100 for the second appointment. During your initial appointment, tell the doctor that you’re paying out-of-pocket and ask if he’ll waive or reduce the charge for the follow-up visit, assuming that it takes only a moment. Many doctors will agree to this, particularly for regular patients.
Confirm that tests are necessary. Doctors often order unnecessary medical tests out of fear that not conducting these tests might open the door for negligence lawsuits later. Unless your health insurance is picking up the entire bill, question whether recommended tests – including MRIs, CAT scans and X-rays – really are necessary. Ask what these tests will determine.
Here’s how to spot overbilling on hospital bills …
Ask for a daily itemized bill. When you check into the hospital, tell the staff member who takes down your insurance information that you want an itemized bill brought to your bed every day. Hospitals are required to provide this upon request.
When you receive these daily bills, review each listing (or ask a family member to do so for you). Were you billed for two doctor visits yesterday even though you saw a doctor only once? Were you billed for tests that you don’t recall getting? Are there vague entries, such as “miscellaneous costs” or “lab fees?” Are there listings you can’t understand? Tell the nurse you would like to speak with the hospital’s patient advocate, then ask the advocate to explain any charge that isn’t clear. You might be appalled by what you’re told.
Examples: Some hospitals have been known to call a box of tissues a $12 “mucus recovery system” and a bag of ice cubes a $30 “thermal therapy kit.”
Save the daily bills so you can reconcile them later with the final bill.
If the patient advocate won’t help remove the mistakes and reduce egregious overcharges from your bill, hire an independent medical billing advocate. He/she will examine your bill and fight to remove any overcharges, usually in exchange for a percentage – typically 35% – of the amount he saves you.
To find a medical billing advocate:
Contact Medical Billing Advocates of America (304-645-6389, www.billadvocates.com) … American Medical Bill Review (530-221-4759, www.ambr.com) … or Edward R. Waxman & Associates (877-679-7224, www.hospitalbillauditing.com).
Bypass the hospital pharmacy. Hospitals dramatically overcharge for drugs. A patient might be billed $5 to $10 for a pill that retails for 10 cents elsewhere.
If you are taking medications on an ongoing basis and are not fully covered by insurance, bring your drugs with you to the hospital.
When you consult with your doctor prior to entering the hospital, find out which drugs you’re likely to be given during your stay. Ask the doctor to write you prescriptions so that you can buy these drugs at your local pharmacy in advance and avoid the hospital markup. Even if your doctor won’t do this, you can bring any nonprescription pills you’re told you’ll need, such as vitamins.
If you must get drugs through the hospital pharmacy and your insurance isn’t footing the bill, ask your doctor to specify generics whenever possible. When you get your itemized daily bill, double-check that you weren’t charged for the brand-name drugs instead.
Watch for double billing. Hospitals often bill patients twice for certain things. If your bill lists sheets and pillows, ask the hospital’s patient advocate if these items are included in your daily room rate. If you’re billed for the scrubs, masks and gloves worn by surgical staff, find out if these were included in your bill for operating room time.
Also double-check the times on your operating room bill. Hospitals charge from $20 to $90 for every minute you’re in the operating room, so if the time you spent in surgery is padded even a little, it will add a lot to your bill. Your anesthesia records will say how long your operation really lasted.
Don’t pay for your last day. Hospital patients are charged the full day’s room rate for the day they check in – even if they arrive at . In exchange, patients are not supposed to be charged for their last day, but hospitals often try to bill for the final day anyway. Sometimes these last-day room bills are simply removed when you complain, but there are hospitals that insist the last-day charge is legitimate for patients who aren’t discharged by a certain hour, often .
During your hospitalization, ask the hospital’s patient advocate whether you’ll be billed for your room on the final day of your stay. If the answer is, “Yes, if you’re not out by a certain hour,” ask your doctor on the next-to-the-last day of your stay to give you your final checkup and discharge the following morning, rather than waiting until the afternoon. If the doctor says this doesn’t fit his schedule, tell the patient advocate that you shouldn’t have to pay because the delay is the doctor’s fault.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
The latest threat to public education in Ohio?
Just minutes after joining Butler County's Fairfield Board of Education in January, anti-school tax activist Arnie Engel already was clashing with fellow members.
About the same time over in Warren County, Jennifer Miller - a rookie Mason Board of Education member and self-described "Christian conservative" - also had a short honeymoon before the verbal battles began.
In Hamilton Township, new Little Miami school board member John Stern was the only "no" vote in February against putting a $62.5 million bond issue on the May ballot. His vote ignited a verbal firestorm from fellow board members and some jeering by residents.
And last week in Monroe, first-time school board member Mike Irwin read a statement at a crowded school board meeting describing Monroe Superintendent Arnol Elam as a "schoolyard bully." Irwin, a retired former mayor of a small Maryland city, claimed he was "verbally berated" in a recent executive session.
This week marks the six-month point for all four of these first-term school board "outsiders" - all of whom are part of an aggressive political movement that accuses public school systems of wasting money and overtaxing property owners. Some loudly proclaim their allegiance to the Hamilton County-based Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes and North COAST, its suburban branch.
The COAST philosophy: new taxes for public schools should be limited to no more than the increased costs of inflation
Their critics are fierce.
"I think they are people who are using the public face of an anti-tax platform to try to achieve their long-range goal, which is to dismantle public education in America," says Little Miami Board of Education Vice President Mary Beth Hamburg. "Getting COAST sympathizers elected to school boards is one strategy to achieve that and people who value education should be extremely careful who they vote for."
Yet their supporters are loyal and have voted in numbers strong enough to get them elected.
"I have a list of 16 board members in 14 districts that I consider our supporters," claims Engel, who built his reputation in Fairfield by battling school taxes. "But some of them do not want to come out of the closet."
The new board members vary in style and can differ in political philosophy once topics stray beyond school spending.
None of them care for the "anti-school tax activists" label opponents have hung on them - even though some have campaigned for years against school levies.
Some - like Irwin - are quiet about their views and have distanced themselves from COAST. But so far, COAST-friendly candidates have not gained majority control over any local school board. The activists hope that will change.
Some of the new board members openly talk about using their footholds to recruit more like-minded candidates. They say more and more voters are beginning to share their belief that school taxes are too high, that unionized teachers and other employees are overpaid, and that schools waste money.
Groups such as COAST have given Greater Cincinnati a statewide reputation as a hotbed for anti-tax activism, says Scott Ebright, spokesman for the Ohio School Boards Association. "I don't think there has been the attempt to organize elsewhere in the state as we have seen in Southwest Ohio."
The rise of anti-tax activists on school boards reflects "the harsh realities of Ohio school finance," Ebright says.
Three Ohio Supreme Court rulings have found the state's method of funding public schools unconstitutional. Schools depend too heavily on local property taxes. So it isn't surprising that frustrations are reshaping local school boards.
"Schools before have not been under this sort of scrutiny," Ebright says.
Marianne Culbertson, 13-year-veteran of the Mason school board, frequently has sparred with Miller during public meetings.
"She is not constructive in her comments and does not offer constructive criticism," Culbertson says. "I am concerned about this trend of anti-tax board members and I think Jennifer Miller's agenda is a personal one."
Fairfield school parent Karin Duke says the same about Engel.
"He seems to have a personal agenda and it isn't about the kids. It's about Arnie Engel, who I think is using the school board as a political stepping stone to a higher office," she says.
But Fairfield resident Marc Conter voted for Engel. He says the thousands who elected him "support his efforts and those of the other people like him."
"I like the fact that he is watching over the school budget," Conter says. "Before Arnie, we had no watchdog over the district's finances."