Saturday, December 27, 2008

FLASHBACK -- 5 YEARS AGO CHRISTMAS EVE -- A classic never dies, does it??

From John Curry, December 24, 2008
Night Before STRS Christmas

"Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the STRS house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a louse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care;
In hopes that more bonuses soon would be there;
The board members were all nestled snug in their beds,
While visions of more entitlements danced in their heads;
And Betty in her 'kerchief, and Jimmy in his cap,
Had just settled their brains for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
Jimmy sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window he flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters while stumbling over cash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave luster of mid-day to the "bennies" below,
When, what to his wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature bank account, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be Gov. Dick.
More rapid than eagles his spenders they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
'Now Michael! Now, Jackie! Now Debbie and Gene!
On, Joey! On Hazel!, on Herbie and Stephen!
Now spend away! Spend away! Spend away all!
As plastic credit cards that before the wild investigation fly,
When they meet with a question, maybe they lie;
So up to the Palace (95 mil.) the spenders they flew,
With a bank account of full of money, and Gov. Dick, too.
And then, in a twinkling, he heard on the roof
The spending and traveling of each little goof.
As he drew in his head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Gov. Dick came with a bound,
He was dressed in OEA garb, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all garnished with airline tickets and soot.
A bundle of bennies he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a bureaucrat, all dressed in his black.
His eyes-how they twinkled! His vetoes how merry!
His promises were like hollow, any investigation he would bury!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
His control over the ethics commission we'll all never know!
The stump of a subpoena he held in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a poker face and a little round belly,
That shook when he governed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, all clever and shrewd,
And just removed enough to stay away from the feud.
A wink in his eye and the ink in his pen,
Would insure that the retirees plight wouldn't end.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
He controlled his legislative puppets, just like a jerk,
He sprang to his sleigh, to his cronies he gave a whistle,
And they all flew away like down on a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, 'ere he drove out of sight,
"I've got to stop in San Francisco before the end of the night.
Merry Christmas retirees, I love you!-And-Happy New Year!"
2003 Cast of Characters
Jimmy & Betty - Jim Petro and Betty Montgomery (former STRS Board members who were thankfully removed from the Board, compliments of SB 133 (Ohio Pension Reform in the Ohio Revised Code).
Jackie, Debbie, Gene, Hazel, & MIchael - Jack Chapman, Deb Scott, Eugene Norris, Hazel Sidaway, and Mike Billirakis ..... all former OEA officials of various capacities and all now convicted of criminal charges by violating Ohio ethics law.
Joey - Joe Endry - Former Executive Director of ORTA and former STRS Board member who was convicted of violating the Ohio ethics law.
Herbie - Herb Dyer - Former STRS Executive Director who was convicted of violating Ohio's Ethics law.
Governor Dick - former Ohio Governor Robert Taft who was also convicted violating Ohio's Ethics law.
Stephen - Stephen Mitchell - Then and now STRS's Chief Investments Officer - Even though many worry about our investments people leaving for greener pastures....Steve's still here, isn't he?
Some will say that this writer should be a little more positive and thankful on the Eve before Christmas. OK, I'll take the hint....I wish to say that I am very thankful for Dr. Dennis Leone. Now, Dr Leone is an STRS Board member who still is busy exposing misspending, mismanagement, and an entitlement mentality that still raises its ugly head every now and then at Ohio STRS.....doesn't it?

A Primer re. Medicare Private (Advantage) Healthcare from the Medicare Rights Center

From John Curry, December 27, 2008
STRS is thinking about going the Medicare Advantage route. You might want to read what the Medicare Rights Center has to say about "private" (Medicare Advantage) is an eye-opener!
Here is a link to the Medicare Rights Center link:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Still want Medicare Advantage?

From John Curry, December 25, 2008

Give me 7 minutes and 51 seconds and then give me your on the link below. Here's STRS's chance to "play doctor!"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rich DeColibus' PowerPoint presentation: STRS' PBI Program; Does it work? 12/23/08 (posted in 5 segments)

Best viewed full screen. Click on the slide image, then maximize your screen.

Look for a strong "push" by STRS to force Medicare Advantage upon STRS retirees

From John Curry, December 23, 2008

After looking at the Medicare Advantage "hard sell" presentation given on Dec. 12, 2008 to STRS it appears as though we had best be prepared to battle "forced" participation in a Medicare Advantage program like SERS recipients have now been placed in. All this at a time when our President-elect has positioned himself against the profiteering of Medicare Advantage programs and his party now has additional seats in Congress to make sure this comes to fruition.
Now, STRS isn't an "insurance company" but, should the Medicare Advantage scheme be adopted, then STRS would be a Medicare insurance company in and of themselves. STRS is eagerly eyeballing the 13% "extra" governmental funds that would come their way should this program be shoved down our throats.
They, I feel, are looking at this additional 13% as a way to prolong the life of our healthcare stabilization fund...a noble cause IF no benefit cuts (as compared to regular Medicare) in medical services would be suffered by retirees....."IF".. that's the key word.
Right now, I'd sooner take my chances and place my trust in Uncle Sam rather than Uncle Michael (Nehf) for the administration of Medicare. I don't want to chance that the "spending on the delivery of care (medical services) falls short of expected levels," as stated in the articles below.
IF Congress chops that additional 13% from the funding of the Medicare Advantage programs then STRS's desire to implement this program will lose it's anticipated pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and we'll be back at "square one," won't we? Give me the regular old-fashioned Medicare any day!

Insurance cos. profit from medicare
Posted by: Angela Shubert on Dec 19, 2008

Insurance companies would never pocket extra money on the backs of Medicare beneficiaries. Or would they?

According to a report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) last week, insurers that sell private plans to Medicare beneficiaries made a whopping $601.79 in profits per enrollee in 2006, a profit margin 65 percent higher than anticipated. Actual spending on non-medical expenses, such as administrative costs, was also substantially higher than projections, while spending on the delivery of care fell short of expected levels.

Since 2003, when the Medicare Modernization Act authorized substantial new funding for Medicare plans operated by private insurers, known as Medicare Advantage plans, a debate on whether these plans provide good value to both enrollees and taxpayers has been raging. These data offer new fuel to the fire in this debate.

Proponents of private Medicare plans have long argued that the "efficiency of the private market" would save taxpayer money while increasing access to care for beneficiaries. The GAO's report suggests that this assertion simply isn't true. Only 83 percent of Medicare Advantage plan revenues actually go to providing care. The remaining 17 percent of Medicare Advantage revenues go toward administrative costs, overhead and profits. In contrast, traditional Medicare accumulates no profits from its revenues and spends a mere 2 percent on administrative costs.

Rather than increase efficiency and access, Medicare Advantage has served to direct precious taxpayer dollars away from Medicare beneficiaries and into the pockets of insurers. Stronger oversight of the insurance industry is essential. When the federal government purchases goods and services, we expect accountability. Taxpayers and beneficiaries deserve to know that premium dollars are being spent in a way that maximizes value and promotes efficiency.

Last week at a press conference announcing Tom Daschle as the new Secretary of Health and Human Services, a journalist asked President-Elect Obama how he intended to find money to pay for health care reform legislation. In his answer, Obama indicated that regulation of Medicare Advantage insurers would be a necessary way to save money and improve quality.

We're also going to examine programs that I'm not sure are giving us a good bang for the buck. The Medicare Advantage program is one that I've already cited where we're spending billions of dollars subsidizing insurance companies for a program that doesn't appreciably improve the health of seniors under Medicare.

Some members of Congress have also talked about enacting "minimum medical loss standards," which would require health insurance companies to spend a certain percentage of premium dollars on medical care (as opposed to administrative costs or profits). Such standards would allow insurers to retain reasonable profits, while ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.

Now that sounds like a deal that is fair to insurers, taxpayers, and beneficiaries.

From the Washington Post re. Medicare Advantage:

Medicare insurers' profits exceed expectations

The Associated Press
Thursday, December 11, 2008; 4:40 AM

Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- Health insurance companies that serve the elderly and disabled in Medicare are realizing significantly higher profits than they anticipated, resulting in the companies getting $1.3 billion more than projected, congressional auditors say.

Under a program called Medicare Advantage, the federal government pays insurers for delivering Medicare benefits. The insurance companies' payments are based, in part, on their anticipated revenues and expenses. If the companies had been more accurate, they could have spent much of that $1.3 billion on enhanced health benefits or lower monthly premiums, and they still would have maintained their expected profit margin, the Government Accountability Office said in a report expected to be released Thursday.

The GAO studied the Medicare Advantage program for 2006, the most recent year for which figures were available.

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., who requested the analysis, said the government spends more on beneficiaries when they're in Medicare Advantage than if they're in traditional Medicare, about 13 percent more on average.

"This puts to bed this idea the plans are offering tremendous extra benefits with the overpayments," said Stark, a frequent critic of the program. "The overpayments are going to profits."

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the correspondence from the GAO to Stark.

Stark, chairman of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, said he will push for legislation next year that would lower the government's payments to insurers, an idea that President-elect Barack Obama backed on the campaign trail. But supporters of the Medicare Advantage program said participants are happy with their benefits, and they note that millions have enrolled in the program in recent years as a result.

Any attempts to scale back payments to private insurers would lead to benefit cuts or higher premiums for seniors in those plans, supporters of the program contend. About three-quarters of Medicare's 45 million beneficiaries are still enrolled in traditional Medicare, in which the government pays health care providers a set fee for particular services.

The GAO said that Medicare Advantage insurers generated $50 billion in revenue during 2006. On average, plans earned profits of 6.6 percent and they had projected to the federal government that they would earn profits of 4.1 percent.

The insurance plans also spent less covering medical expenses than anticipated, with 83.3 percent of revenue going to medical expenses. They had projected that nearly 87 percent of revenue would go to expenses.

In responding to the report, federal officials said the insurers' estimates for expenses were within a standard range, given the difficulty in forecasting medical trends and spending. They also stressed that Congress set up the payment structure for Medicare Advantage plans to make sure beneficiaries had wide access to the program.

"The goal of the payment structure, as mandated by Congress, was to ensure broader access to MA plans, particularly for lower-income, minority and rural beneficiaries," said Jeff Nelligan, spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


On the Net:

Government Accountability Office:

Monday, December 22, 2008

Donna and Dean Seaman to STRS Board: call it what it is: A public, deliberate slap in the face to Ohio's retired teachers!

From Donna Seaman, December 21, 2008
Subject: Slap in the face!
It's unbelievable! The STRS board simply will not make any changes to policy! Do you, board members, even understand what is happening in today's economy? Do you know that Pennsylvania's public pension systems were directed by the governor to immediately stop all bonuses paid to investment staff? Do you know that New York is taking steps to follow Pennsylvania's example? Do you read the papers or listen to the news that other states are also doing something about their public retirement systems to downsize, economize, to begin facing today's unpleasant financial facts? Are you waiting for Ohio's governor, who tells us daily how much Ohio's finances are in peril, to finally direct STRS to begin downsizing? Are you unable or just unwilling to face and do what must be done?
Mr. Nehf has been on board only six months and he has already totally adopted the STRS policy of staff entitlement! He gives away an extra non-board approved holiday to employees because his predecessors got away with it. Now he gets away with it, too! He buys into and spouts off the party line about the importance of keeping and "maintaining the best and brightest investment staff!" Meanwhile, Wall Street's "best and brightest" are literally standing in unemployment lines. STRS's "best and brightest" (very well paid and out there spending their bonuses) are relieved that you, board members, have put off any decision to reduce or eliminate performance benefit incentives (bonuses!), recognizing that none of you are willing to bite the bullet and do what is necessary.
By the way -- performance benefit incentives [Performance Based Incentives] -- why don't you begin to call them what they really are: A public, deliberate slap in the face to Ohio's retired teachers!
I'll ask you once again, and believe me, I won't quit asking you: Please start doing what you are legally and ethically responsible to do as STRS board members--monitor and protect this fund for the SOLE benefit of retired teachers!
And happy holidays to you, too, Ms. Cervantes.
Donna Seaman (2002 retiree) and Dean Seaman (1986 retiree)
These are our opinions and not those of any organization.


(Click image to enlarge.)

Gee, if you draw a line from the top of 2007 through the top of "Today" into "Tomorrow", what do you think it will show?
(Try not to smear your computer screen.)

Thanks -- and a virtual bonus -- to Rich DeColibus

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tom Curtis to Mike Nehf: A time to reconsider

From Tom Curtis, December 21, 2008
Subject: 122108 Curtis To Nehf, A Time To Reconsider
Hello Mr. Nehf,
My name is Thomas Curtis. I am an STRS benefit recipient and stakeholder. I taught technology education for 26 years before leaving teaching on a disability retirement in 1998.
In June 2003, I attended my first STRS board meeting due to my concern about the rising cost of health care for my wife (a non-teaching spouse) and myself. From that day forward and to this day, I have supported the call for reform that Dr. Dennis Leone spelled out in his historic document of May 16th 2003. He presented that document to the board and executive director on that date, and they all smugly ignored it.
During the summer of 2003, I became politically involved with a group from my school district in Stark Co., along with Senator Kirk Schuring. We planned a rally for August 2003 to express our concerns about the mismanagement of the STRS. Roughly 600 people gathered in front of the state house on that hot August day and marched to the STRS building for the board meeting. Things have never been the same for the STRS since.
Being one of the initial organizers of CORE, I made presentations to the board nearly every month, calling for reform. Dr. Leone and CORE made enough noise throughout the state during 2003 to cause the active educators to elect the first non-OEA-backed active member to the board. John Lazares was seated in 2004, winning over the incumbent board chair and OEA-backed and heavily financed (by OEA) Eugene Norris. In 2005, CORE was successful in helping to get Dr. Leone elected to the board and to get SB 133 passed. It called for the restructuring of the STRS board and created some new guidelines for the election of board members. As a result, all of the OEA board "clones" were forced to leave, as was the executive director. In turn, each was prosecuted and convicted of their unlawful practices. Isn’t it amazing what a grass roots organization can accomplish when it gets fired up?
Since that time, the unions (OEA/OFT) have stepped up their political and financial support for their "clone" candidates and have had little trouble reestablishing themselves on the board. When Dr. Leone leaves the board in August 2009, the board majority will again consist of bought-and-paid-for union-backed members. Pay-to-play is alive and well, for a while anyway!
It became poignantly clear to me by early 2006 that the "new" board majority and the executive director showed little interest in bringing about any more of the reform the stakeholders were calling for. Did we make a difference? You bet we did. And guess who tried to take the credit for all of the reforms we caused to take place? I am sure you already know Dr. Asbury and the OEA claimed that as their own doing.
Starting in 2006, we had a whole new board, albeit one that was very inexperienced. Other than John Lazares and Dennis Leone, all of the elected members lacked any formal training in business and finance. I guess that is unimportant to the unions, who basically put them there. In my opinion, there is not one elected board member at present, with the exception of Dr. Leone, who would even be considered by any firm to make the kinds of decisions they are currently asked to make.
Consequently, I decided early in 2006 that I would no longer waste a whole day and considerable expense by driving to Columbus to attend the board meetings. We (CORE) were successful in bringing about the retirement of Herb Dyer, but his culture of mismanagement was far too ingrained in those who remained. Note: it is my understanding, from talking with the prosecutor, that Steve Mitchell may also be brought into court for his part once he retires. Politics have kept him out of court to date.
In my opinion, the mismanagement of the STRS should have been fully investigated by the State Inspector General, Thomas Charles. He was to have done so, beginning in July 2003; however, Gov. Taft bowed to the wishes of two corrupt, highly placed state officials of that time, both of whom held seats on the board, and line-item-vetoed the funds to bring the investigation about. What resulted was a three year cover-up, allowed by the ORSC. They went through the motions of calling for some oversight two years later, by letting a contract to an out-of-state agency (IFS) headed by a former state teachers retirement director. That agency produced a report that was totally useless, vastly outdated and hugely expensive to the stakeholders. Isn’t politics great?
Mr. Nehf, you probably were not aware of what had transpired at the STRS just a few years prior to your taking the director’s position. If you were made aware, depending on who "educated" you, I suspect you were not provided a totally accurate description of what transpired concerning the mismanagement of our funds and those stakeholders who disagreed with such.
All of that aside, a new day has come and you are the new director of the STRS. We are about to inaugurate our 44th U.S. president; an individual I consider to have a very healthy vision of what this country should be about. I sincerely hope and pray that he will be successful in bringing this country’s economy back to reality; one where Americans will once again be able to live within their means, and the gap between the rich and the poor is not enormous, as it is today.
The lavish lifestyle, misspending practices, and greed of the management and investment managers of various enterprises have brought this country and the world into a financial crisis, one that I fear will loom for a long time. The effects have not even begun to be realized.
CEOs and investment staffs are now beginning, though very grudgingly, to relinquish the out-of-line salaries, bonuses and benefits they themselves had perpetrated. This is a good time to reassess your position as our director. If you will kindly review Dr. Leone’s historic document of May 16th 2003, you will find what we, the stakeholders, desire a reasonable request for the downsizing of the STRS. This is what we expect from you as our director. This is what we desire from you.
No teacher has ever had the privilege of experiencing the kinds of outlandish benefits the STRS employee receives at present. Please do not forget that teachers are the primary contributors of the dedicated flow of income the STRS receives each year. You and your staff do not produce any product or service that has to compete for its income. You simply receive it each month from the treasurer of each school system throughout the state.
Yet, it appears that management feels it is worthy of so much more then we are. Why is that? You were hired and you agreed to manage our dedicated flow of income in the best interest of your stakeholders, but you do not do that. Management clearly does not follow ORC 3307.15 in this respect.
Please understand, Mr. Nehf, as things worsen financially, you will be held to a higher standard of accountability by the stakeholder than you have probably ever experienced at any time during your career. Saying you are opposed to the elimination of PBIs, wage freezes and other badly needed reforms will not be accepted by the stakeholder. I feel this is especially true, because the STRS stakeholder has already been alerted to the misspending of your predecessors and current staff. We will be ever vigilant, not because we desire to be, but because the personal greed of our money managers has forced us to be.
Please reconsider your views concerning the cutbacks you should be contemplating in the coming New Year. We expect better consideration and respect, concerning our views, from our administration in 2009.
I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas,
Thomas Curtis
STRS Stakeholder
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
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