Friday, March 12, 2010

Shirlee Zerkel: Info from Sandy Knoesel

From Shirlee Zerkel, March 12, 2010
Subject: Fwd: Doctor office health benefits!
Dear retirees who are on the Aetna Medicare Plan:
Here is the email I sent to Ms. Knoesel and Mr. Nickel at STRS: 'I have a question about a benefit on the Aetna Medicare Plan. My Aetna card reads: Dr. $15 and Specialists $15 and your information passed out at the regional meetings stated that physicians office visits was that "the enrollee pays $15-no deductible." I am asking if there are any types of doctor office visits that the deductible applies to? Also STRS literature given to us during those regional meetings state: "Evidence of coverage-Booklet describing the plan benefits in detail- (will be received)Within 20 days after plan confirmation from CMS." Neither I nor other retirees in Allen County have ever received these benefit in detail booklets which are also our evidence of coverage. We are now 65 days into the plan. We do not have lists of vision, hearing and fitness programs. When will we be receiving this information? The deductible does not apply to any doctor office visits even chiropractors. Also I just received another email from Ms. Knoesel and she asked to tell those retirees that if they did not receive the booklet describing in detail the plan benefits to call her or email her. Her email is
Click on the attachment to see her answer to my questions. It is of importance to all retirees on this Aetna Plan.
Shirlee Zerkel
Note, since the letter above was received, I have received another email from Ms. Knoesel asking for retirees to call or email her if they do not receive the above mentioned material. Note...the text of her email is below:
(From Sandy Knoesel): Thanks for letting me know. If they call me or send me an e-mail, I can make sure they receive the information.
Hi, Mrs. Zerkel. We received your e-mail and needed a few days to investigate your concerns. Here is what I learned so far.
1. Aetna mailed the Evidence of Coverage booklets on Feb 8 and 9. We asked Aetna to investigate if there were any issues with the mailing that we did not know about. It will take a few days for Aetna to complete its investigation.
2. The ID cards state $15 for doctor visits and $15 for specialist (just so there is no confusion between a primary care physician and specialist since it is not uncommon for the two to have different copayments). The deductible does not apply to any office visits as questioned.
3. The Health and wellness programs-for the way you live brochure was mailed on January 25th and it goes over the vision savings snapshot, Healthways fitness program, and the Aetna Hearing discount program.
We have requested that the above mentioned documents to be mailed to you.
Sandy Knoesel

Teachers union in Minnesota did the same thing that OEA is doing in Ohio...the 'straw' didn't fly in Minnesota!!!

From John Curry, March 12, 2010
Alswager’s (a union lobbyist) remarks didn’t go over well with either Republicans or Democrats on the Education Committee. Rep. Marsha Swails, DFL-Woodbury, who is a career public schools teacher and Education Minnesota member, said Education Minnesota wasn’t addressing the financial mess facing the pension plans.
“I do feel a little disappointed about my union in the last couple weeks. … I feel there is a lot of finger pointing going on about things that have happened in the past,” Swails said.
Swails added to Alswager: “I don’t think what you’re proposing makes sense, to be honest.”
Pension puzzler: keeping funds alive
by Charley Shaw
March 12, 2010
Click image to enlarge
The words being used to describe this year’s omnibus pension bill are more dramatic than those from previous legislative sessions. Legislators and lobbyists are referring to it as “shared sacrifice,” and one GOP state representative even used the term “bailout.”
The rhetoric isn’t all that overblown, unfortunately. The three major pension plans face billions of dollars in funding shortfalls and are on an actuarial track to go broke in the early 2030s if no action is taken.
The boards of the three major statewide pension plans last fall agreed to recommend that state lawmakers increase employer and employee contributions and cut retiree benefit increases.
In response, a large and diverse group including the Minnesota School Boards Association and the League of Minnesota Cities has signed on in support of the bill.
The network of supporters, however, is missing one very influential member: Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers union.
At the Capitol, Education Minnesota is pushing an alternative proposal that would spare teachers from the contribution increases. Away from St. Paul, Education Minnesota recently waged a campaign in which hundreds of e-mails were sent to members of the Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement from teachers in their districts.
Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, the chairman of the pension commission — and whose BlackBerry was inundated with e-mails before the commission’s vote on March 5 — expressed disappointment in Education Minnesota’s opposition. He said all major players need to be on board to pass the politically unpalatable measure.
“You’re not going to get a better deal,” Betzold said.
Betzold added: “The worst-case scenario is, you get the funds to the point where you can’t save them.”
The teachers’ pension plan is officially known as the Teachers Retirement Association (TRA). TRA pays benefits to 50,208 retirees or their survivors. The youngest person receiving benefits, according to TRA, is 52 years old.
There are 77,000 active members paying into the fund.
When the last actuarial assessment of TRA was done on June 30, 2009, TRA was 60 percent funded on a market-value basis. Under the current calculation, the teachers’ fund will go broke in 2032.
The legislative solution that passed the pension commission increases teacher and employer contribution rates by 0.5 a year for four consecutive years starting July 1, 2011. Teachers currently contribute 5.5 percent.
Retirees would share the pain under the TRA proposal.
In 2011 and 2012, the bill would suspend the 2.5 percent annual benefit increase that retirees receive. The benefit increase in 2013 would be reinstated at 2 percent. Retirees wouldn’t get the old 2.5 percent increase until the plan is 90 percent funded.
Retirees belonging to the two other major statewide plans, Minnesota State Retirement System and Public Employees Retirement Association, also have similar proposals in the bill to shore up their finances.
Meanwhile, Education Minnesota has shopped an alternative to legislators that would address TRA’s funding and also provide a benefit increase. The proposal was offered to the pension commission as an amendment by Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. Thissen, however, withdrew the amendment before a vote was taken by the pension commission.
Education Minnesota is making a case to legislators that teachers have had a disproportionate share of contribution increases compared with other states. The union also argues that union members were hurt when the ailing fund for post-retirement benefits was merged into the fund for active employees in 2008.
“We would like pension benefit equality,” said Jan Alswager, a lobbyist for Education Minnesota.
Alswager testified about the union’s proposal Thursday in front of the House K-12 Education Finance Division.
“Our active members should not bear the burden they did not create,” Alswager said.
Alswager’s remarks didn’t go over well with either Republicans or Democrats on the Education Committee. Rep. Marsha Swails, DFL-Woodbury, who is a career public schools teacher and Education Minnesota member, said Education Minnesota wasn’t addressing the financial mess facing the pension plans.
“I do feel a little disappointed about my union in the last couple weeks. … I feel there is a lot of finger pointing going on about things that have happened in the past,” Swails said.
Swails added to Alswager: “I don’t think what you’re proposing makes sense, to be honest.”
Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said that the deal for public employee pensions is better than anything private sector workers could hope for in the wake of the stock-market meltdown of 2008-2009.
“It’s a bailout. …There are taxpayers, my constituents, who would love to have a deal like this for their 401(k)s,” Garofalo said.
The question of how Education Minnesota will proceed this session could take a while to be answered because pension legislation usually hangs around until the end of session. The union could follow the path of another union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFCSME) Council 5. AFSCME initially opposed the pension proposal. Since the session began, however, AFSCME reversed its position and now supports the omnibus bill.
One Capitol insider on pension issues said, however, that Education Minnesota “has painted itself into a corner” with its members. It will be hard for the union to tell its membership that they must make concessions and not get anything valuable in return from the 2010 session.
If the union continues to hold out for a deal that will sweeten pension benefits, it will likely incur more hostility from the bill’s supporters.
“We shouldn’t drive [the TRA fund] further into the hole by granting benefit increases we can’t pay for,” said Russ Stanton of the Inter Faculty Association.

Bonuses just another form of theft?

From John Curry, March 12, 2010
Author Lewis equates Wall Street bonuses with "theft"
March 12, 2010
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Author Michael Lewis, known for exposing the culture of excess at Solomon Brothers with his book "Liar's Poker," says Wall Street bonuses at banks bailed out by Washington are "a very elegant form of theft."
Lewis's latest book "The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine," to be published next week, tells the story of the 2008 financial meltdown through the prism of a few Wall Street players who spotted the weaknesses of the U.S. sub-prime mortgage market and made a fortune betting against it.
In an interview with the CBS news show "60 Minutes" to be broadcast on Sunday, Lewis described how banks have been given free rein to make big profits and reward themselves with whopping bonuses.
The big Wall Street banks "have access to a zero percent loan in virtually unlimited quantities from the Federal Reserve. You can take that money and reinvest it in Treasury bonds or government agency securities and you will get the spread and you could do it over and over," he said.
"You're essentially borrowing from the government ... and taking a cut," he said.
Wall Street banks, many which received government bailouts in 2008, saw higher bonuses in 2009. Even though profits returned robustly in 2009, the bonus pools still fell short of the banner year of 2007.
For example, Goldman Sachs, the poster child for excessive pay, paid out $16.2 billion in 2009, ahead of the $10.9 billion it paid in 2008, but still well below the record $20 billion it set aside for compensation in 2007.
"Really what's going on is the people on the top of the firm want to make a lot of money and if they're going to make a lot of money, they have got to pay the people under them a lot of money," Lewis said.
"So it's a very elegant form of theft right now."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

STRS Board meeting March 17 - 19, 2010

From STRS, March 10, 2010
The State Teachers Retirement Board and Committee meetings currently scheduled at the STRS Ohio offices, 275 East Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215, are as follows:
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
...11 a.m. Disability Review Panel (Executive Session)
...1 p.m. Staff Benefits Committee Meeting
Thursday, March 18, 2010
...9 a.m. Retirement Board Meeting
Friday, March 19, 2010
...9 a.m. Resumption of the Retirement Board Meeting
.12:30 p.m. Ad Hoc Committee for Retreat Review

Monday, March 08, 2010

John Curry: Which is it, Mike? (Third request)

Still waiting.....
John Curry to Mike Nehf, March 8, 2010
Mr. Nehf,
It has now been almost six months since my last (second) request for an explanation of a letter that was sent to an STRS benefits recipient, namely me. I have been patient because I know that you are a busy fellow and have lots on your plate but ....six months? Maybe you have forgotten about it but I haven't it is again.
Mike, retirees with serious questions won't go away, they just keep coming back until they get an answer. It is hoped that you will find the time to answer this question this time so that future letters are not needed. Many of my fellow retirees also want to know your answer to the question asked below. Thank you.
John Curry
Posted March 8, 2010
Click above image to enlarge.

COLA smasher at it again? How about it, Mr. Nehf?

From an STRS retiree,March 7, 2010
Subject: Re: Notice what they DIDN'T mention..........
The current director cut the budget from where he came from by cutting COLAs. I wrote about this a long time ago and we should not be surprised it happened. Sometimes people only know one way to solve a problem. I have written many times to the director and the board long before they even began to talk about it because of his track record. It is dead WRONG to make those most vulnerable pay dearly.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Notice what they DIDN'T mention.......... the article below. They (The California Orange County Register) did mention steps to cut corners and help the California retirement systems save monies and survive the downturned economy by 1. lowering benefits for "new" hires, 2. extending retirement ages, 3. increasing employee contributions.
So, what was NOT mentioned? Cutting COLAS was not mentioned. Some in Ohio seem to think that cutting COLAS is appropriate but 3 out of the 5 Ohio retirement systems did NOT suggest lowering the *COLA for retirees in their plans submitted to the Ohio Retirement Study Council.
*Police and Fire recommended only lowering the COLA for their current and future retirees ages 55 and under. Please see the attached scan of the COLA recommendations submitted to the ORSC re. COLA.
We have to keep the pressure on our legislators to NOT touch our COLA when (and if) a bill is introduced into the Ohio legislature to do such!
Other states' pension fixes resisted here
March 7, 2010
The Orange County Register
Despite facing a $50 billion future debt for unfunded public employee pensions, California still resists reforms that some other states have adopted. Continued delay potentially adds to the obligation of taxpayers, who are responsible to make good on the retirement promises government makes.
Politically powerful California government unions are the reason reforms haven’t been implemented. But in 17 other states, benefits have been lowered for new hires, retirement ages extended and employee contributions increased.
Click image to enlarge.
California taxpayers are legally responsible to pay what’s owed if too little is set aside or earned in investments to cover these expenses. Recent pension fund investment losses aggravated California’s problem, now estimated to be $50-billion more than the state has set aside.
Nationwide, a $1 trillion gap exists between what’s funded and what’s promised by governments at all levels, the Pew Center on the States estimates. In the past two years, the expanding shortfall has prompted 10 states to increase retirement contributions by employees and 10 states to lower new employees’ benefits, or increase their retirement age and required years of service.
But the vast majority of California local and state governments haven’t acted. Moreover, a ballot initiative to roll back benefits for new hires died for lack of financial backing to qualify it for the November ballot. Although Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in January proposed state workers increase their contributions by 5 percent, he’s left it to a reluctant, union-shy Legislature to make the reform happen.
In a recent Register op-ed column, GOP candidate for governor Meg Whitman said new state workers should have retirement plans with fixed employer contributions, like 401(k) accounts in the private sector, rather than the existing defined-benefit plans. She also called for retirement age to be increased from 55 to 65 for most current state workers, with longer vesting periods and increased contributions.
Replacing fixed-benefit systems would reduce taxpayers’ exposure if pension-fund investments tank, and requiring employees to contribute more to their own retirements could reduce taxpayers’ upfront costs, as well. But so far, unions remain opposed to their members paying more or losing guaranteed benefits. We’re interested to see how Ms. Whitman would implement her reforms, but leaving it to the Legislature as Mr. Schwarzenegger has probably dooms the effort.
From John Curry, March 7, 2010
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
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