Saturday, May 26, 2007

Rookie Representative and former teacher touches on possible STRS divesting

The following article was taken from the Findlay Courier on 5/26/07. Newly elected State Representative-and retired educator -- Cliff Hite (R) from the 76th Ohio House District mentions possible divestment of STRS monies. I am pleased to see that he addresses the fact of STRS losing $$ should the divestment bill become law but, in the same article he suggests that the addition of six months to the divestment timetable in this bill may somehow ameliorate the situation. So does he want divestment or not -- or will he commit himself? Could we retirees benefit if we let him know how we feel about the financial damage that this bill would do to our system? Here is his contact information. John [Curry]
Representative Cliff Hite
77 S. High St
13th floor
Columbus, OH 43215-611
Telephone: (614) 466-3819
Fax : (614) 719-3976
Email Address:
He wants to be in the Financial Institutions, Real Estate and Securities (FIRE) Committee meeting because it’s discussing a bill that would require all public pension plans to withdraw from any investments connected to Iran, where the money might be used to sponsor attacks on U.S. troops.
“The problem is, when you do that, there are some fee problems in exchanging one system (for) another,” Hite says. “There’s the potential for loss and nobody wants that in their pension.”
The bill is targeting “19 organizations to stay away from,” Hite notes. The state teachers pension fund has “some of their money in them so they’re going to have to divest it,” Hite says, “but now they have 18 months to make that change instead of just a year.”
Rookie representative learning a new game
Findlay Courier, May 26, 2007
COLUMBUS -- Cliff Hite is learning his way around the corridors of power in Columbus, but he’s wary of people in that other political party.
The new state representative tells a visitor, “You see those guys, they’re OK, they’re Democrats though ...”
He describes another man as “one of the smartest, interesting people down here, but he’s a Democrat.”
Two things are clear when shadowing Hite, a Findlay Republican, down in Columbus: No. 1, he’s not in Findlay anymore, and No. 2, he really loves his job.
“I’m really getting in my comfort zone,” says Hite, who is in his first term representing the 76th House District. “I’m learning where to go to ask questions when I have them.”
Making the trip across High Street from Hite’s office in the Vern Riffe Center to committee hearing rooms in the Capitol is like a stroll through the winner’s circle at the Indianapolis 500 -- all hugs and backslaps. Even the security guards’ eyes light up when they see Hite coming.
But don’t fool yourself, this is no “lovefest.”
Politics is all about networking and getting people to see things your way, and there’s plenty of work being done during those backslaps and joking conversations.
“Hey, you don’t have a problem with my bill, do you?” Hite asks Rep. Ron Gerberry, D-Austintown, the ranking member of the House Education Committee, after running into him in the lobby of the Riffe Center.
Hite, who sits on the education committee, introduced a bill that would give teachers extra time to administer tests to special needs students. The first two hearings on the bill went so smoothly there’s talk of forgoing the third hearing and fast-tracking it to the floor of the House.
After some muffled talking followed by some roaring laughter, Gerberry points to Hite and says, “No, you’re OK!”
Hite smiles, walking away from Gerberry and his companion, knowing he’s got their votes.
“They’re nice guys; they’re Democrats though,” says Hite.
It’s not all schmoozing and laughter, though. That trip across the street is followed by three hours of fairly tedious committee meetings.
Hite is kept hopping because two of the committees he’s on are meeting at the same time.
That creates a dilemma for him. He wants to be in the Financial Institutions, Real Estate and Securities (FIRE) Committee meeting because it’s discussing a bill that would require all public pension plans to withdraw from any investments connected to Iran, where the money might be used to sponsor attacks on U.S. troops.
“The problem is, when you do that, there are some fee problems in exchanging one system (for) another,” Hite says. “There’s the potential for loss and nobody wants that in their pension.”
The bill is targeting “19 organizations to stay away from,” Hite notes. The state teachers pension fund has “some of their money in them so they’re going to have to divest it,” Hite says, “but now they have 18 months to make that change instead of just a year.”
While he wants to keep track of that bill, Hite is the vice chairman of the State Government Committee and he’s expected to be at that panel’s hearing.
There’s discussion in that committee that has Hite concerned, too. A bill would allow electronic gambling machines at Ohio horse tracks, giving people an opportunity to bet on randomly selected, unnamed horse races from the past.
“Some money (from the betting) goes to the racing commission, some goes to the winnings purse, just like if you were watching a regular horse race,” Hite says.
“The downside is it will expand gambling. The downside is there are some people saying these are really just glorified slot machines. The downside is we will probably have more people who will suffer from this gambling addiction that can take place, which is a distinct possibility ...
“Some of the plus side is the money that’s raised through this would help the Passport program, which is a program to help the aged stay in their homes with assistance, rather than having to go to nursing homes and things like that. That would save the state millions of dollars; so it’s a great program.”
About halfway through the State Government Committee hearing, Hite hops up and heads over to the FIRE Committee in order to make sure he doesn’t miss a vote. When he learns no vote is scheduled, he scoots back over to the other hearing, but not before taking the opportunity to schmooze with a few fellow lawmakers.
The day’s not done when the hearings are over. It’s 1 p.m. and Hite has to prepare for a 3 p.m. meeting with Gov. Ted Strickland. He wants to introduce the governor to the idea of a regional vocational school in Findlay that would serve areas like McComb and Fostoria as well.
“I’m just going to talk to the governor about it,” Hite said. “I’m not trying to push anything on him.”
After that meeting, Hite plans to visit a Columbus area school where a teacher wants to talk to him about his education bill. Then he can finally head home to the more GOP-friendly confines of Findlay.
Don’t feel sorry for Hite and his hectic schedule, though. He doesn’t mind.
“I love it,” says the former Findlay High School football coach. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had. I thought that my passion was coaching and teaching and that it didn’t get any better than that, but I think this is even better.
“It’s been a wonderful learning experience. It’s just the next level of education for me. After being a teacher and preparing for that classroom atmosphere all these years and helping kids be critical thinkers, now it’s my turn to increase my knowledge so I can be a better representative.
“I may have learned more in the last two years than the last 50 before that, just because there’s so much information,” Hite says.
“... It’s information saturation, but you get to deal with people every day. You get all kinds of different opinions, very well thought out, too. And sometimes it doesn’t matter if it’s a liberal or a conservative viewpoint. Everybody who comes with their argument all believe they have Ohio’s best interest at heart.”
Contact staff writer John Graber at: (419) 427-8417

Friday, May 25, 2007

FLASHBACK -- 3 years ago -- The day Deb, Eugene, Jack & other STRS travelers won't forget!

"In the wake of media reports last year about questionable spending on travel by pension board members, the legislation prevents the re-election or appointment of anyone who spent an average of $10,000 annually from 2000 through 2002 on board-paid travel.
"At the State Teachers Retirement System, that means board member Deborah Scott will be prevented from running for re-election. It also means current board chairman Eugene Norris, who was defeated recently in his re-election bid, cannot be appointed to a seat being vacated by Jack Chapman when he retires this summer."
Ohio House approves pension reform bill
Canton Repository, May 26, 2004
Copley Columbus Bureau chief
COLUMBUS — After last-minute maneuvering, a reworked pension reform bill passed the Ohio House on Tuesday. It will go to the Senate today for its concurrence.
A revised Senate Bill 133 finalized behind closed doors Monday reached the House floor late Tuesday.
Some Republicans joined Democrats in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat the bill because they wanted to keep active members of each system in the majority on the respective boards.
Among other changes, the legislation adds three investment appointees to each board — one by the state treasurer, one by the governor and joint appointee by the president of the Senate and speaker of the House.
The reform bill comes on the heels of a report from the Ohio Ethics Commission that alleged criminal wrongdoing at the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund. That report has been sent to the Franklin County prosecutor.
The ethics commission is continuing its investigation of the State Teachers Retirement System. That report is expected within the next couple of months.
The long-stalled reform measure picked up speed within the last couple of weeks after Gov. Bob Taft brought stakeholders together to work out their differences. The Legislature also wanted to get something done before adjourning this week for the summer and the campaign season leading to the November election.
Senate President Doug White, R-Manchester, said the Senate will concur in the House changes today, which will send the bill to the governor for his expected signature.
The newest version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Lynn R. Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, changes the makeup of all five of the state’s public pension system boards. The state auditor and attorney general have been removed from the boards.
Also, an additional retiree will be added to the boards of four systems. The police and fire fund already has two retirees.
An earlier Buy Ohio provision requiring a certain percentage of business go to state-based brokers and investment managers was watered down. Now, each board will have to set an annual goal for using Ohio companies and file a report about their use with the Ohio Retirement Study Council.
In the wake of media reports last year about questionable spending on travel by pension board members, the legislation prevents the re-election or appointment of anyone who spent an average of $10,000 annually from 2000 through 2002 on board-paid travel.
At the State Teachers Retirement System, that means board member Deborah Scott will be prevented from running for re-election. It also means current board chairman Eugene Norris, who was defeated recently in his re-election bid, cannot be appointed to a seat being vacated by Jack Chapman when he retires this summer.
The bill also requires people who promote themselves or companies to the pension systems to register as lobbyists.
You can reach Copley Columbus Bureau Chief Paul E. Kostyu at (614) 222-8901 or e-mail:
Senate Bill 133: Reforms Ohio’s five public pension systems to improve oversight. Passed the House Banking, Pension and Securities Committee 13-8; passed the Ohio House, 57-42.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

AMA Survey of M.D.'s: Medicare Advantage plans suck!

"The results of our new survey of physician experience with Medicare Advantage plans are troubling," according to AMA Board Chair Cecil Wilson, M.D.
"More than half of the physicians report that their patients in a Medicare Advantage HMO or PPO plan were denied coverage of services typically covered in the traditional Medicare plan, and 84 percent reported patients have had difficulty understanding how the plan works," said Dr. Wilson.
Source - All Headline News
Doctors' Experiences With Medicare Advantage Plan "Bleak" Says AMA Survey
May 23, 2007 11:06 a.m. EST
Patricia Shehan - AHN Staff Writer Chicago, IL (AHN) - The American Medical Association (AMA) announced the results of a new survey on Tuesday that indicates doctors' experiences with the Medicare Advantage plans are "bleak."
The AMA provided a statement to the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health that highlighted the findings of the survey, expressing the concerns of physicians across the country.
"The results of our new survey of physician experience with Medicare Advantage plans are troubling," according to AMA Board Chair Cecil Wilson, M.D.
"More than half of the physicians report that their patients in a Medicare Advantage HMO or PPO plan were denied coverage of services typically covered in the traditional Medicare plan, and 84 percent reported patients have had difficulty understanding how the plan works," said Dr. Wilson.
"The private health plans were supposed to inject competition into the Medicare program, but instead we've ended up with a federal handout to the insurance industry," Dr. Wilson adds.
"Eliminating the overpayments to the insurance companies will save Medicare $65 billion over five years, according to the government's own estimate," said Dr. Wilson.
The AMA's written statement included the call for a "staunch support of fiscal neutrality between the regular Medicare program and the Medicare Advantage program," in which 51 percent of doctors reported that the Medicare Advantage payments are below the traditional rates of Medicare.
According to the physician survey, 45 percent of the physicians' patients who are in a Medicare Advantage private fee-for-service plan have been denied services that were typically, previously covered in the traditional Medicare plan. Another 80 percent of doctors reported that their patients have had difficulty understanding how the private fee-for-service plan even works.
"It's shameful that under current law Medicare will slash payments to doctors well below the cost of caring for seniors, while increasing payments to highly profitable managed care companies. Congress has to make a choice-preserve access to care for all seniors by stopping next year's Medicare cut to doctors, or continue to help insurance companies line investors' pockets," as written in the AMA statement.

Minutes of May 17, 2007 CORE meeting

CORE held its May 17,2007, meeting in the cafeteria room behind the Sublett Room at the STRS Building. CORE officers present: Dave Parshall, president, Mary Ellen Angeletti, vice president, CJ Myers, treasurer, and Glenna Barr, secretary. Trustees present: Betty Bell. Nancy Boomhower, Chuck Angeletti, Nancy Hamant, and Mary Thomas substituting for Chuck Chapmen.
Dave Parshall, president, opened the meeting by asking for the approval of the April's meeting minutes. Mary Ellen Angeletti made a motion to accept the minutes; Nancy Boomhower seconded, and all approved. CJ Myers gave the treasurer's report.
Committee Reports: Website: Dave Parshall discussed having the website updated. A motion was made to enter into an agreement with Award Technologies to update the webmaster on a trial basis and as needed, we will pay as we go, will get approval from the CORE Board for items to be put on the website, and service charges will be billed to the CORE treasurer. Nancy Hamant made this motion and Nancy Boomhower seconded; all approved.
Old Business:
A. Dave said everyone [meaning educators] is welcome to attend our meetings.
B. Dave gave a report on the ORTA State House Day held on April 24,2007. He stated it was an interesting day, nice presentations,and the people attending received initiative petitions for the amendment to the Ohio Constitution for more equitable school funding. He stated many ORTA members attended but very few attend the STRS Board meetings.
C. Dave read a letter from Marc Dann, Ohio Attorney General, regarding the practice of holding secret ballots. He stated that the STRS Board must vote as a body at their meetings and that they have been in violation of open meeting laws. Mr. Dann will share our concerns with the STRS Board. Dave sent a copy of the letter to Dennis Leone. He will also send a letter to Mr. Dann requesting that he find someone to replace John Patterson, legal counsel to the STRS Board as a representative of the State Attorney General's office.
D. Mary Ellen Angeletti gave an update on John Lazarus, who is still recovering from complications of knee replacement surgery. He wanted to relay to all of the CORE members his thanks for the planter, good wishes and cards during his recent illness and surgery.
New Business: HB bill 151, divestiture of Pension funds from investing in terrorist countries, and HB 152, mandating all school boards to offer separate and alternative retirement plans. Both of these bills are detrimental to STRS funding. CORE opposes both bills. Mary Ellen Angeletti proposed we send out as a CORE Alert the letter Dave wrote voicing opposition to the the bills and urging CORE members to write to their legislators.
A discussion was held on the morning's health care discussion at the STRS board meeting, the encouragement of members to attend the STRS meeting during the winter months, since many of the regular attendees travel south on vacation during the winter, and the salary increase of the STRS investment staff. The meeting was adjourned. The next meeting will be June 14, 2007.
Submitted by Glenna Barr, secretary.

Rep. Michelle Schneider responds to Nancy Hamant re: HB 151

From Rep. Michelle Schneider, May 24, 2007
Subject: RE: STOP HB 151

Dear Nancy,
Thank you for your recent email regarding HB 151. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and concerns on this matter.
I want you to know that I am working on this bill very closely with Representative Jones. I am opposed to funding terrorism and am working to make this bill better.
Again, thank you for writing with regards to this matter as I will certainly keep your thoughts in mind. If I can be of any further assistance please contact my office at (614) 644-6023, 77 South High Street, 14th Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or
Michelle Schneider
Assistant Majority Whip
State Representative
35th Ohio House District
From Nancy Hamant, May 20, 2007
Subject: STOP HB 151

The Honorable Michelle Schneider
The Ohio House of Representatives
Dear Representative Schneider,
What is your position on H.B. 151? As a retired member of STRS, I am extremely concerned that the passage of this bill would severely damage our pension system for reasons I will list below. Please do everything you can to keep this bill from passing. Over 100,000 of retirees will be badly impacted, financially, if it goes through. The unfunded liability of the STRS pension fund would be almost doubled. H.B. 151, though well-intended, would wreak havoc with the STRS pension fund and the lives of all retired Ohio teachers, especially our most elderly.
Thank you, respectfully,
Nancy B. Hamant

Steve Puckett responds to Nancy Hamant re: Medicare Advantage

From Steve Puckett, May 24, 2007
Subject: RE: Analysis: Private Medicare under fire - from Suddenly Senior

Thanks Nancy but what about a voluntary pilot?

Nancy Hamant: June is too soon! Medicare Advantage (OR is it a DISADVANTAGE for the retiree?)

Note from John....If STRS runs this show, will we have access to almost ALL doctors as under Medicare? Or, will STRS care to address this aspect of implementing what is known as the Medicare Advantage? If STRS gets the 12% will it all go to retirees?
From Nancy Hamant, May 24, 2007
Subject: Fwd: Analysis: Private Medicare under fire - from Suddenly Senior
There "is no doubt that Medicare Advantage" will look different after this year as stated in the following article.
All the more reason that STRS does not rush to add a Medicare Advantage Plan to its health care options. The STRS Board needs to study the Medicare Advantage Plan very, very carefully comparing its costs to operate it both now and in the future as well as with the two plans STRS currently offers--Basic and Plus. It is my understanding that the STRS Board will vote on the 2008 health care options at its June meeting (not August). That is too little time to carefully consider the impact of Medicare Advantage either positive or negative to the STRS health care stabilization fund!
Nancy Hamant
Suddenly Senior, May 24, 2007
Analysis: Private Medicare under fire

WASHINGTON, May 23 (UPI) -- Democrats appeared one step closer this week to cracking down on private insurance companies that offer a growing number of Medicare plans.
Lawmakers are pledging this summer to push legislation that reins in some of the plans, which they say charge the government inflated prices while sometimes using misleading marketing tactics to entice vulnerable seniors into signing up.
Supporters of the plans, including the Bush administration, say the plans provide vital extra benefits to many rural and low-income seniors. They warn that cuts threatened by Democrats could undermine healthcare access for millions of seniors participating in the growing program, known as private fee-for-service plans.
The plans frequently offer coordinated disease care and disease management services not available with traditional Medicare plans offered by the government. Only about 1.5 million seniors currently use private fee-for-service, mainly in rural areas.
But lawmakers have criticized the program because the government pays companies an average of 19 percent more per beneficiary than it pays for traditional Medicare services. In House hearings Tuesday, lawmakers also complained that the plans operate without strict government oversight.
Some witnesses told lawmakers that high payment rates and a lack of oversight had led to a kind of "gold rush" by companies. The plans rush to sign seniors, sometimes resorting to misleading information and other illegal marketing tactics to enroll as many as possible.
Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark, D-Calif., chairman of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, warned that private fee-for-service plans could face curbs, most likely in Medicare reform legislation planned for some time this summer.
"As we look to improve and protect Medicare, all provider payments must be reviewed and are subject to change. Given what we know about PFFS at this time, they're at the top of my list," he said.
Brock Slabach, a board member of the National Rural Health Association, told lawmakers that seniors enrolling in a plan often don't know that physicians are not required by Medicare to accept the plans.
"When beneficiaries actually need the services is when they discover the gaps," he said.
"Prospective enrollees are being told outright lies," David Lipschutz, staff attorney with California Health Advocates, told the committee.
But Bush administration officials defended the plans, saying they offer care coordination services that chronically ill Medicare beneficiaries often cannot get in other plans.
PFFS plans also allow beneficiaries to keep their additional benefits even if they move throughout the country, said Leslie Norwalk, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
"I think it's important to be cognizant of what those benefits are," she told reporters in a briefing in advance of the House hearings.
One day before the hearings, CMS proposed new federal rules forcing insurers to report to the government on their marketing practices.
Responding to the new scrutiny of PFFS plans, insurers said the higher government subsidies are key to offering additional benefits. "If Congress cuts ... funding, the (PFFS) product is unlikely to remain a stable product in many areas," said Kathryn Schmidt, vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
Proposed cuts could come as part of a broader bill cutting Medicare physician payments and increasing consumer protections under the program's Part D prescription-drug benefit, congressional aides said.
Although she also warned against cutting the program, Norwalk suggested PFFS plans and other privately run plans under the "Medicare Advantage" program were likely to face curbs.
"I have no doubt that Medicare Advantage is bound to look different after this year," she said.

Molly Janczyk re: HB 151

From Molly Janczyk, May 24, 2007
Subject: Bill 151: Iran

Big picture for Bill 151:
For those who wish and requested some thoughts, the general responses might be re: Bill 151 that if we should not be doing business with Iran, why are we doing business with the Saudis who are supplying for part of the civil war and most of the RSB that are killing our wonderful men in Iraq, and who supplied all the persons but one of the 911 intruders. The companies that may be doing business with the Iranians are like a spider web and far too involved to dissect. We are involved in worldwide products both providing and receiving not considering political aspects of terrorists but instead countries needing and providing global services and needs. How could we ever dissect all the energy companies alone from our market investments and supply and demand? Sounds good but far from simple and far more intricate than possible to retract all connections. Pension systems are not bound by political policy. They act solely on behalf of membership to make the best returns possible.
Additions to an email to me.
Please remember STRS does not invest directly with IRAN. We invest with some companies who have worldwide business in many countries including Iran such as Ford, Coca Cola, etc. There are 19 such companies listed on the new bill with many of them energy companies. This is why divesting would be so complex and so hugely negatively impact STRS funds for retirees. Pension systems are not politic so that they can solely serve retirees with the best investment possibilities. We are invested with companies who happen to sell in Iran such as again Ford and Coca Cola. We invest in such companies so that they make a profit for us to make earnings. We invest in companies that are doing business in lots of countries where extremist factions/terrorists live since many if not most countries have such groups along with genocide, abuse of citizens, hatred for America, etc. Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, North Korea, etc. It is easy for us to say stop all monies into those countries politically but that is different than buying a coke , cars, gas, oil and investing in Coca Cola or car companies, oil companies, energy providers. None of us has any idea of the complexity or vast amounts of time and money this would require resulting in shaking our economy. STRS does not do direct business fueling any money directly into Iran.

Marc Dann: Bringing back accountability

Bringing back accountability
Ohio Attorney General Dann speaks at local Democratic dinner

County Editor
The Wilmington New Journal Online, May 24, 2007

"In this job, I have the power to change people's lives every day. And what's really tragic is that for 12 years that power went unused. My staff and I - I'm proud to say - are using that power every day on behalf of the people in the state of Ohio."

Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, who took office on Jan. 8, talked about some of the accomplishments made during his first 4 1/2 months in office when he was in Wilmington Wednesday night to speak at the annual spring dinner of the Clinton County Democratic Party.

Dann was introduced by David Fierst, managing attorney in the Cincinnati Attorney General's office. He called the attorney general's office the best job in the world.

"My job became incredible on the first day," he told the large crowd of Democrats. "About 8 o'clock in the morning on my first day on the job my most difficult client called me and asked me if I was interested in helping him ignite a constitutional crisis.

"That was when Ted Strickland called about wanting to veto Senate Bill 117 which was an anti-consumer bill - a bill that I opposed in the legislature ... . Actually, in the truly last act of courage, Bob Taft neither signed or vetoed the bill. That day taught me a couple lessons. One, about doing what's right. The second was about how important transitions and how really seamlessly in our democracy we move from one person's leadership to another person's leadership."

Dann said Gov. Strickland vetoed the bill on his first day in office, the last day he had under the constitution to veto the bill. "I personally argued the case in the Ohio Supreme Court a couple of weeks ago. I feel very positive about the argument that I made. When it's a constitutional issue at stake, the attorney general should argue the case.

"In this job, I have the power to change people's lives every day. And what's really tragic is that for 12 years that power went unused. My staff and I - I'm proud to say - are using that power every day on behalf of the people in the state of Ohio."

Dann stressed the importance of electing a Democrat president in 2008. The road to the presidency, just like in 2000 and 2004, runs through Ohio, he said. He urged everyone to talk to their independent and Republican friends about whether or not they are satisfied with what they are getting from government; about whether or not they are satisfied with the direction our country is taking in foreign policy, whether we should be at war. "If Democrats can be successful in office in Ohio, then that helps you make the argument for 2008, what change will mean at the federal level, what it will mean to have a Democrat president in 2008."

He also talked about his office "taking on" AOL/Time Warner. "On behalf of the public employees pension funds in the state, I represent the third largest set of public pensions in Ohio. We have brought several security fraud actions. One pending when I took office was against AOL/Time Warner, the fraud that took place when they merged. There was massive fraud. When I took office, the offer the case was zero. We called Time Warner to come into the office. We negotiated what has become one of the largest security fraud settlements on behalf of Ohio's pension funds in history - $175 million."

Dann said his office has brought transparency and accountability to state government and the office is fighting for consumers every day and working hard to rid our state of predatory lenders who are destroying neighborhoods and far too many communities. These bogus loans were cooked up on Wall Street and are resold to bond holders. They are causing havoc with middle class and working class homeowners all throughout Ohio. "We have the first injunction in the country against one of those predatory lenders - New Century Financial. They cannot foreclose on a house in Ohio unless the commerce director and I tell them it's okay. That's a huge victory for the consumers. We're going to take this fight all the way to Wall Street. They took those loans and packaged them together, then sold them as bonds. They made billions of dollars. We're going to get some of that back for the homeowners in the state of Ohio."

He said his office is forming partnerships with local law enforcement officers and prosecutors throughout the state, both Democrats and Republicans working hand in hand. "We're going to have the best crime lab in the country at BCI (Bureau of Criminal Identification). We already have a great one but we're going to have a better one, with the best technology, everything you see on "CSI" (Crime Scene Investigation).

Iran divestment: What's going on

Neo-Cons Driving Iran Divestment Campaign
Jim Lobe
Inter Press Service News Agency

WASHINGTON, May 10 (IPS) - Neo-conservative hawks who championed the invasion of Iraq are leading a new campaign to persuade state and local governments, as well as other institutional investors, to "divest" their holdings in foreign companies and U.S. overseas subsidiaries doing business in Iran.

While stressing that U.S. military action against Iran's nuclear programme should not be taken off the table, they call their divestment strategy the "non-violent tool for countering the Iranian threat".

And, like the run-up to the Iraq war, the campaign has attracted bipartisan support. Democrats, including those who strongly oppose the George W. Bush administration's Iraq policy, see divestment, as well as other proposed economic sanctions against Tehran, as a way to look "tough on Iran" short of going to war.

"I'm not yet ready to suggest the use of military force... but one has to stay on alert that that time could come sooner rather than later," James Woolsey, who served briefly as former President Bill Clinton's CIA director, told an Ohio legislative committee this week in support of a bill that would ban investments by the state's pension funds in companies operating in Iran or in any other country the State Department lists as a state sponsor of terrorism.

"Terror-free investing will not solve the problems... but I think it's an important part of the comprehensive package," added Woolsey, a prominent neo-conservative associated with the like-minded Foundation for the Defence of Democracies (FDD).

The new campaign, the brainchild of the far-right Centre for Security Policy (CSP), is designed to put pressure on the Islamic Republic to abandon its nuclear programme, end its support of anti-Israel groups like Palestinian Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah, and "perhaps even to push (it) toward collapse," according to FDD president Clifford May, by depriving it of foreign investment and commercial ties with other countries.

According to a report released here Wednesday by the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute, which is collaborating with the CSP, Iran has signed more than 150 billion dollars worth of investment and commercial contracts with foreign companies based in more than 30 countries since 2000, including more than four billion dollars with U.S. overseas subsidiaries.

The initiative, which is modeled after the anti-apartheid divestment campaign against South Africa of the 1980s, is also backed by major pro-Israel and Jewish groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and local Jewish Community Relations Councils whose membership is worried that Israel will be threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran.

Potentially at stake are billions of dollars controlled by state pension funds and other institutional investors that have invested money in companies -- based mostly in Europe and Asia -- operating in Iran. According to CSP, New York pension funds alone own nearly one billion dollars of stock in three Fortune 500 companies tied to Iran.

"Iran's ability to fund its nuclear programme and sponsor terrorism would come to a grinding halt without revenue gained from foreign investors," according to CSP, which, along with the American Enterprise Institute and FDD, was a leading advocate for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Last year, Missouri became the first state to order one of its pension funds to divest its shares of all companies that do business with Iran and other countries on the State Department's terror list. Last month, both houses of the Florida legislature unanimously approved a bill banning the investment of state funds in companies with commercial ties to Sudan and Iran's energy sector.

Iran-related divestment bills are expected to be approved over the next month by legislatures in Ohio, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and California, according to Christopher Holton, the head of CSP's "Terror-Free Investing" programme. Similar bills are also being considered in the legislatures of Texas, Georgia, Maryland, and New Jersey and will soon be introduced in Michigan and Illinois, he told IPS.

The sudden proliferation of state divestment measures comes amid renewed efforts in Congress to tighten and expand the scope of existing legislation against Iran.

Under the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), which, among other provisions, bans U.S. companies from doing business in Iran, the president is required to impose a range of economic sanctions against foreign companies that invested more than 20 million dollars a year in Iran's energy sector, which accounts for about 80 percent of its foreign-exchange earnings.

The same law, however, permits the president to waive such penalties if he deems it in the national interest. Worried that imposing sanctions would anger key U.S. allies, President Bush has consistently exercised his waiver authority, as his predecessor, Bill Clinton, did before him.

But, as tensions with Iran have increased since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad nearly two years ago, pressure, especially from neo-conservative groups and the hawkish leadership of the so-called "Israel Lobby", which includes the Christian Right, to take stronger action has grown.

Congress is currently considering several bills that, if passed, would reduce or eliminate the president's waiver authority and include language encouraging divestment drives at the state level.

The administration, which is at least rhetorically committed to working through the U.N. Security Council to impose multilateral sanctions against Iran to rein in its nuclear programme, appears ambivalent on both expanding ISA and on the divestment campaign.

On the one hand, State and Treasury Department officials, using the threat of tougher Congressional action, have informally -- and with some success -- pressed foreign banks, companies, and governments, to forgo or freeze new investments in Iran's energy sector over the past year.

On the other hand, the administration has opposed the pending legislation both because it would reduce the president's flexibility in conducting foreign policy and because imposing sanctions will almost certainly produce a backlash in foreign capitals that would undermine Washington's ability to sustain a united front with its allies and other powers against Iran at the U.N. and in other forums.

"We could not support modifications to (ISA) now being circulated in Congress that would turn the full weight of sanctions not against Iran but against our allies that are instrumental in our coalition against Iran," Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told a Senate Committee in late March.

In this position, the administration has been strongly supported by the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), a business lobby created by many of the nation's biggest corporations, which has long opposed both unilateral U.S. trade sanctions and state divestment initiatives.

"On one hand, we're asking Europe, Russia, China and Japan to work together with us on this, and, on the other hand, we're beating their companies over the head with a stick," NFTC President William Reinsch told IPS.

In a letter to Ohio lawmakers considering divestment legislation, Reinsch made much the same argument, noting also that, in a case brought by the NFTC, a federal court judge recently struck down as unconstitutional a Sudan divestment law in Illinois on the grounds that it interfered with the federal government's ability to conduct foreign policy and regulate foreign trade.

In his weekly column in the Washington Times published shortly after Reinsch sent his letter, CSP's president, Frank Gaffney, denounced Reinsch as "Terror's lobbyist", charging that the NFTC "favours doing business with America's enemies and runs interference for those determined to do so".

"Iran is already in difficult economic straits; if fully brought to bear, the power of America's capital markets could mightily affect corporate behaviour, undermining -- hopefully, helping to bring down -- the mullahocracy in Iran," wrote Gaffney. (END/2007)

Shirlee Zerkel re: STRS Board to vote on plan it knows nothing about

Shirlee Zerkel to Nancy Hamant, May 24, 2007
Subject: In agreement!

Thanks for sending out your opinion on the Advantage Plan. I thought I was the only one with that opinion. So they are going to vote on it in June, yet no details of how it will function are known! How can the board make an intelligent decision on the issue when details are not available? I think that maybe back in 1986 or 87, STRS may have made the same quick decision about paying Part A expenses for all teachers who were already employed in a school district when it became law that Medicare taxes were taken from teachers' wages. Now STRS is stuck paying the hospital benefits (Medicare A) for retired teachers who are 65 and over. There are still 42 teachers employed in the district I retired from who have never paid Medicare taxes and STRS will be paying their Part A hospital bills if the teacher does not have a spouse who paid into Medicare.


Drug Wars at the Big-Box Stores

"Pharmacies take advantage of consumers' lack of knowledge and mark up prices substantially."
Devon Herrick, senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis
Huge retailers like Wal-Mart and Target are cutting prices for selected prescription generics. How long can they keep it up?, May 24, 2007
In 2004, when the patent for the popular allergy drug Claritin expired, 20 pills of the generic version sold anywhere from $10 to $30, depending on the region of the country. Today, the same amount is $4 at the 4,000 Sams' Club and Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) and 1,500 Target (TGT) stores.

Price programs like that have boosted sales at both discount retailers in the latest quarter. Through them, customers can fill a 30-day prescription on drugs such as Paroxetine, the generic version of the antidepressant Paxil, and cholesterol-lowering Mevocor's generic, Lovastatin, for just $4.

The Right Prescription for Growth

In the first quarter, Minnesota-based Target saw profits jump 18%, to $651 million in the first quarter that ended Apr. 29, while sales increased 9.2%, to $14 billion. The retailer's pharmacy sales were hopping, and the increased number of folks at the pharmacy helped boost sales of other products, too.

"We are getting substantially more new guests and new prescriptions," Target President Gregg Steinhafel said May 23 on a conference call with analysts to discuss earnings. Earlier this month, Wal-Mart reported a similar sales bump. "Our pharmacy area continues to see benefits from the $4 generic prescription program," said Eduardo Castro-Wright, chief executive of Wal-Mart's U.S. operations, citing prescription sales growth that "continue to run in the mid-teens."

For Wal-Mart, the generic drugs initiative presents fertile ground for growth. Most people need monthly prescription refills, making drug sales a great way to lure customers to stores more often. "You're looking at a loss leader葉he idea is they come in to buy one product and will buy three more," says Robert Passikoff, president of New York brand consultant Brand Keys.

However, Wal-Mart executives have insisted they won't sell the drugs at a loss. That's in part because the company recognizes that the generic drugs are a low-price commodity. As a result, it can employ its highly efficient logistics and technology預nd the famous Wal-Mart pressure on suppliers葉o squeeze out even the smallest margins that make a difference to profits at the high volumes Wal-Mart can sell.

Over at Target, though, the additional customers have come at an important cost. "Obviously [$4 generics] is putting strain on the margin rate within our Rx and pharmacy business group," says Target's Steinhafel. But he notes that the increased numbers of customers have helped sales of over-the-counter drugs and other products throughout the store.

For now, Target isn't cutting any of its pharmacy staff, despite lower margins. However, Passikoff says that over the long term, many of these retailers might find it difficult to continue to offer such low-priced generics. "It's a game of marketing poker, and the one who can wait the longest and has financial wherewithal to invest in that strategy will win," says Passikoff.

A Scramble by Retailers

The effect has been widespread. Wal-Mart's mid-September announcement that it was launching a test program to sell 291 generic drugs for $4 a prescription in the Tampa area set off a scramble among all pharmacy retailers. Target matched Wal-Mart's offer immediately, and K-Mart (SHLD) publicized its 90-day generics for $15. Other regional supermarket stores like Giant Eagle of Pennsylvania and Meijer of Michigan even started offering a handful of generic antibiotics for free.

Consumers' response to Wal-Mart's Tampa test was so dramatic that the company decided to expand the $4 generic drugs to dozens of states just two weeks later. It's easy to understand why. The benefit for consumers was striking葉he National Association of Chain Drug Stores says that the cost of a 30-day supply of an average generic prescription drug was about $29.82 in 2005, compared with $101.71 for name-brand prescriptions.

Wal-Mart's price was even lower than the $10 co-pay required by most employer health plans. "The prescriptions on our $4 program now make up more than 37% of all prescriptions we fill," says Bill Simon, chief operating officer of the U.S. Wal-Mart Stores Division. "The response nationwide has more than exceeded our expectations." Wal-Mart says the program has saved consumers more than $340 million.

The End of Unfair Mark-Ups?

The simple $4 price has certainly brought transparency to the retail drug arena. Until recently, when a drug's patent expired, pharmacies would charge as much as they liked for the generic version. While it would be far cheaper than the brand-name version, many pharmacies would mark up prices dramatically.

One study found that the mark-ups would be as high as 4,000%. For instance, in 2004, soon after the patent for the antidepressant Prozac expired, health economist Devon Herrick found that a 30-day prescription of its generic version, Fluoxetine, was selling in central Iowa for $55, in some places in Florida for $43, in Virginia for $45, and at the discount wholesale club Costco Wholesale (COST) for $7.09.

"People are just not aware of these variations, and most of them don't compare prices," says Herrick, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a nonprofit research group. "Pharmacies take advantage of consumers' lack of knowledge and mark up prices substantially."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Damon responds to Shirlee's second request

From Damon Asbury, May 23, 2007
Subject: RE: Questions about new voluntary plan!
I did receive your questions, but forwarded them to Member Benefits for a reply to you. We are still in the very early stages and do not have sufficient details to respond directly to your questions at this time. In the meantime, I forwarded a response to Molly Janczyk on a similar question. That answer is below:
STRS Ohio is still in the very early stages of this project and therefore not in position to answer your questions fully at this time. The Health Care staff presented the concept at the May board meeting and received a go-ahead from the Board to further explore this additional plan as an option for 2008. Many details of the plan will need to be worked out during the summer. Staff will present the plan recommendations and premiums for a voluntary Medicare Advantage program in August. Obviously, they will continue to explore the various advantages and disadvantages prior to the presentation as they would want to be in position to give members full and accurate information prior to their selection of an Advantage plan.
We will keep your more specific questions in mind and reply as the staff develops additional information on this proposed plan.

Doctors, Legislators Resist Drugmakers' Prying Eyes

By Christopher Lee
The Washington Post
Tuesday 22 May 2007
Seattle pediatrician Rupin Thakkar's first inkling that the pharmaceutical industry was peering over his shoulder and into his prescription pad came in a letter from a drug representative about the generic drops Thakkar prescribes to treat infectious pinkeye.
In the letter, the salesperson wrote that Thakkar was causing his patients to miss more days of school than they would if he put them on Vigamox, a more expensive brand-name medicine made by Alcon Laboratories.
Rupin Thakkar, a Seattle pediatrician, was lobbied to switch the pinkeye medicine he prescribed. Rupin Thakkar, a Seattle pediatrician, was lobbied to switch the pinkeye medicine he prescribed.
"My initial thought was 'How does she know what I'm prescribing?' " Thakkar said. "It feels intrusive.... I just feel strongly that medical encounters need to be private."
He is not alone. Many doctors object to drugmakers' common practice of contracting with data-mining companies to track exactly which medicines physicians prescribe and in what quantities - information marketers and salespeople use to fine-tune their efforts. The industry defends the practice as a way of better educating physicians about new drugs.
Now the issue is bubbling up in the political arena. Last year, New Hampshire became the first state to try to curtail the practice, but a federal district judge three weeks ago ruled the law unconstitutional.
This year, more than a dozen states have considered similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. They include Arizona, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Nevada, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont and Washington, although the results so far have been limited. Bills are stalled in some states, and in others, such as Maryland and West Virginia, they did not pass at the committee level.
The concerns are not merely about privacy. Proponents say using such detailed data for drug marketing serves mainly to influence physicians to prescribe more expensive medicines, not necessarily to provide the best treatment.
"We don't like the practice, and we want it to stop," said Jean Silver-Isenstadt, executive director of the National Physicians Alliance, a two-year-old group with 10,000 members, most of them young doctors in training. (Thakkar is on the group's board of directors.) "We think it's a contaminant to the doctor-patient relationship, and it's driving up costs."
The American Medical Association, a larger and far more established group, makes millions of dollars each year by helping data-mining companies link prescribing data to individual physicians. It does so by licensing access to the AMA Physician Masterfile, a database containing names, birth dates, educational background, specialties and addresses for more than 800,000 doctors.
After complaints from some members, the AMA last year began allowing doctors to "opt out" and shield their individual prescribing information from salespeople, although drug companies can still get it. So far, 7,476 doctors have opted out, AMA officials said.
"That gives the physician the choice," said Jeremy A. Lazarus, a Denver psychiatrist and high-ranking AMA official.
Some critics, however, contend that the AMA's opt-out is not well publicized or tough enough, noting that doctors must renew it every three years.
The New Hampshire court's ruling has raised new doubts about how effective legislative efforts to curb the use of prescribing data will be, but the state attorney general has promised to appeal. And state Rep. Cindy Rosenwald (D), the law's chief sponsor, vowed not to give up the fight.
"In this case, commercial interests took precedence over the interests of the private citizens of New Hampshire," Rosenwald said. "This is like letting a drug rep into an exam room and having them eavesdrop on a private conversation between a physician and a patient."
The April 30 ruling by U.S. District Judge Paul Barbadoro, nominated to the federal bench in 1992 by President George H. W. Bush, called the state's pioneering law an unconstitutional restriction on commercial speech.
Since at least the early 1990s, drug companies have used the data to identify doctors who write the most prescriptions and go after them the way publishers court people who subscribe to lots of magazines. They zero in on physicians who prescribe a competitors' drug and target them with campaigns touting their own products. Salespeople chart the changes in a doctor's prescribing patterns to see whether their visits and offers of free meals and gifts are having the desired effect.
"It's a key weapon in determining how we want to tailor our sales pitch," said Shahram Ahari, a former drug detailer for Eli Lilly who is now a researcher at the University of California at San Francisco's School of Pharmacy. "The programs give them [doctors] a score of 1 to 10 based on how much they write. Once we have that, we know who our primary targets are. We focus our time on the big [prescription] writers - the 10s, the 9s, and then less so on the 8s and 7s.... We're dealing with individual physicians who might give us the biggest dividend for our investment."
Ahari said he used the data to tout the virtues of Eli Lilly's antidepressant Prozac to doctors who favored the rival drug Effexor - noting, for example, that its longer half-life meant that if patients missed a dose over a weekend, they would experience less severe agitation and other withdrawal symptoms that might prompt them to call their doctor. He did not mention the rival drug by name or disclose that he knew the physician's prescribing habits, he said.
Data-mining companies and the pharmaceutical industry argue that the practice has value far beyond the corporate bottom line. The information helps companies, federal health agencies and others educate physicians about drugs, track whether prescribing habits change in response to continuing medical education programs, and promote higher-quality care, they say. They stress that patient names are encrypted early in the process and cannot be accessed, even by the data-mining companies.
A drug company might use the database to help determine whether physicians prescribing a particular high-risk drug have undergone required training about the medicine, said Marjorie E. Powell, senior assistant general counsel for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a trade association.
"If you don't have that information, then you are in a very difficult situation," Powell said. "There is no way you can implement the risk-management plan that the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] is requiring you to implement in order to allow the drug to be on the market."
The prescribing data also let "the company do more targeted marketing, which lowers the total costs of its marketing," she said.
Randolph Frankel, a vice president at IMS Health Inc., the Connecticut-based health-data-mining company that challenged the New Hampshire law, said the more a drug representative knows about a physician, the easier it is to provide information that meets the needs of the doctor's practice.
"We are about more information and more education, and not less," said Frankel, whose company had operating revenue of $1.75 billion in 2005, not all of it from sales to drugmakers. "The vast majority of physicians welcome these people as part of the overall educational process about drugs and their use. And any doctor in the country can close the door to these sales reps. It doesn't require legislation to do that." New Hampshire's Failed Attempt
The law: Banned the sale or use of data on individual doctors' prescribing choices for marketing and other commercial purposes, while allowing it for research, law enforcement and patient education. The goal was to protect physician privacy and reduce health-care costs.
The challenge: Data-mining firms said the law unconstitutionally restricted free speech. They cited previous rulings that commercial speech cannot be restricted unless the restriction advances a "substantial government interest" and is narrowly crafted.
The defense: New Hampshire argued that information is not speech, and even if it is, the statute was tightly drawn to serve the "substantial" state interests of protecting privacy, promoting public health and curtailing costs.
The decision: U.S. District Judge Paul J. Barbadoro ruled that the law curbed commercial speech because it "restricts the transmission of truthful information" about prescribing practices, limiting companies' ability to communicate with doctors; the ban was not narrow because it blocked marketing messages even when brand-name drugs were superior; the state did not have a substantial interest in preventing the dissemination of truthful information; and the state had other remedies, such as putting out competing information.

Excellent Materials on Pharma Policy and Law

From Sharon Treat, May 23, 2007
Subject: Excellent Materials on Pharma Policy & Law

I was a panelist earlier this month at a conference for state Attorneys General sponsored by Columbia Law School on pharmaceutical law and policy. It was a terrific conference with great information on pricing and marketing fraud, state laws and challenges to them, payments to doctors and more. Many excellent materials are now posted on the law school website and I recommend you book mark this site. More materials are still to be posted (including my presentation) so check back in a few days. Here is the link:

Sharon Anglin Treat
Executive Director
National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices
P.O. Box 492
Hallowell, Maine 04347
Tel. 207-622-5597
Cell. 207-242-8558
Fax. 207-622-3302

The National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices is a nonpartisan organization of state legislators working jointly across state lines to reduce prescription drug prices and expand access.

Nancy Hamant on Medicare Advantage: "What a crock!"

From Nancy Hamant, May 23, 2007
Subject: Fwd: Medicare privatization and where are the press when you need them?

It appears that part of the monthly Medicare premium of $93.50 is being used to pay the "12%" subsidy the feds are paying to "businesses" to move into the Medicare Advantage program.
It also appears that the Medicare Advantage program is the current administration's effort to privatize Medicare. Also, the Medicare Advantage programs will eventually cost more!
What a crock!
Nancy Hamant
From Frank Kaiser (Suddenly Senior), May 23, 2007
Subject: [SeniorNews] As Medicare goes private, the press just stands by - from Suddenly Senior

As Medicare goes private, the press just stands by
May 22, 2007
The government sounds like the voice of the insurance industry as it hucksters older Americans into joining 'Medicare Advantage,' a means of unraveling the popular, effective program. Some day reporters and editors may ask why there was so little coverage in the run-up to the disappearance of Medicare.
By Gilbert Cranberg Des Moines Register and Tribune.
The press was on its toes when the Bush Administration proposed private investment accounts, saw it for the scheme to privatize Social Security that it was, reported on it and thus helped derail privatization when the public understood what was at stake.
Not so with the administration's plan to privatize Medicare.
Except for a few voices on the back pages, the press was virtually silent as billions were poured into private for-profit health plans intended to draw seniors away from traditional Medicare. Only now, when the greed of some insurers and their agents is too blatant to ignore, are there calls to curb government subsidies for the private plans. Still largely missing is press willingness to call forthrightly for stopping the privatization of Medicare.
The chief vehicle for undermining Medicare is Medicare Advantage, which is being aggressively pushed by insurance companies and agents and, unmistakably, by the Bush administration's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that oversees Medicare. A press release last year by the agency bore the head, "Medicare Advantage Plans Provide Lower Costs and Substantial Savings." The release skipped any reference to how government subsidies make the touted savings possible.
The government's promotion of the private plans is evident also, somewhat more subtly, in "Medicare & You," the supposedly disinterested and objective "official government handbook" published by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and sent to all Medicare beneficiaries. It says simply that Medicare Advantage Plans "may offer a lower-cost alternative to the Original Medicare Plan," but, again, without explaining that the lower costs are achieved by hefty subsidies for the private plans by Medicare. Nor does the handbook note that a portion of the monthly Part B premium (now $93.50) seniors pay for physician services helps underwrite the subsidy.
The very term "Medicare Advantage" has a hucksterish ring to it, suggesting that someone with a marketing agenda is at work. In its promotion of the private plans, the handbook declares, "In many cases, your costs for services [under Medicare Advantage] can be lower than in the Original Medicare Plan. Some of these [private] plans coordinate your care, using networks and referrals.... This can help manage your overall care and can also result in savings to you."
The handbook generally downplays the cost of co-pays.
Medicare is stunningly successful and popular. Why would anyone want to desert it? Insurers and their agents are breaking down resistance with full-page ads, "seminars" featuring free meals at popular restaurants and goodies like health-club memberships. Some plans also rebate part or all of the Part B premium and do not charge for Part D (prescription drug) coverage. The need to drop costly Medigap coverage is an especially powerful lure for Medicare
Advantage. Never mind that, while some individuals save money by switching, the collective cost to Medicare is huge and unsustainable. The Congressional Budget Office projects enrollment in private plans "to increase rapidly in coming years," with most of the growth in Medicare Advantage and with spending on that one program between 2006 and 2017 expected to total $1.5 trillion.
In a paper sent to me recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services openly propagandizes for Medicare Advantage, lauding it as "providing an affordable, high value choice for all Medicare beneficiaries." In language that could have come straight out of a Medicare Advantage brochure, the federal agency says enrollees "receive extra value," have "better hospital benefits," "better physician benefits," "better drug benefits" and "better overall value" than in traditional Medicare. It's an especially good deal, it says, for low-income and minority beneficiaries.
Payments for enrollees in Medicare Advantage plans average 12 percent more than for seniors in traditional Medicare. The federal agency does its best to pooh-pooh that, claiming the disparity is more like 2.8 percent.
Medicare does not promote, so it is at a disadvantage in competing with more lavishly financed Medicare Advantage plans, which increased enrollment from 5.3 million in 2003 to 8.3 million last February. Call traditional Medicare Medicare Disadvantage.
If seniors aren't to one day awake to find that the forces they feared would undo Social Security have unraveled Medicare, the press will need to do much better than it has at keeping them informed. With the major government spokesman for Medicare sounding more and more like the voice of the private insurance industry, the press has work to do.
Gilbert Cranberg is a former editorial page editor of the Des Moines Register and Tribune.
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