Saturday, May 06, 2006

STRS Board Election results: Clean sweep for your OEA!

Congratulations to the winners -- money talks, doesn't it? I have high hopes for Mark Meuser; am hoping Conni Ramser will shape up, but won't bet the family farm on it. For starters, she still needs to do her homework. 3307.15, guys. 3307.15. Go for it!! ~ KBB

From STRS, May 6, 2006

On Saturday, May 6, 2006, the results of the State Teachers Retirement Board election were certified by tellers designated by each candidate and a representative of the Secretary of State. The results of the election for two contributing member seats on the Retirement Board are as follows:

John K. Brackett, 9,612 votes
Mark Fredrick, 11,706 votes
Thomas E. Hall, 13,298 votes
Mark H. Meuser, 26,532 votes
Constance (Conni) K. Ramser, 29,043 votes
Write-Ins, 104 votes

The term of office for Constance (Connie) K. Ramser and Mark H. Meuser begins on Sept. 1, 2006, and ends on Aug. 31, 2010.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Hazel Sidaway's next door neighbor to Tom Curtis: 'I wish I could see you so I could give you a standing ovation'

May 4, 2006
Hello Mr. Curtis,
If this is the Thomas Curtis that wrote the letter to the editor about Hazel Sidaway, I want to applaud you. I wish I could see you so I could give you a standing ovation. I am a retired Canton City teacher and I have the unfortunate experience to live "right next door" to Hazel Sidaway, "the most arrogant person I have ever met." I just applaud you, I wish I had been able to say what you said so eloquently in the paper. My number is [xxx].
Of course you know she cried in court, but she has been at her place in Florida ever since the trial, she hasn't even been home, "thank you, I am so happy about that." Anyhow, I just applaud you again for your letter. I wish more people were writing in. I know Mike Hanke (Repository Editor) is on our side, because his wife is a teacher. Thank you again for your wonderful letter.

Active teachers, HEADS UP before you head for your STRS retirement conference!

From John Curry, May 4, 2006
Potential retirees of STRS -- try $650 per month (IT'S $501 PER MONTH NOW) to cover JUST your spouse for healthcare insurance if you retire next year!!!!!!!!!!!! If you go for retirement counseling, ask. They will probably JUST tell you that the figure is not finalized yet. They really don't want to tell you what you will read below. Well, check out these figures!
From Molly Janczyk, May 4, 2006
Subject: 2007 Retirement HC costs projected to be 27-32% over 2006

2006 brought HC premiums of $501 for STRS spouses. 2007 is projected to be approx. $650-ish range for spouses. These figures HAVE been discussed and STRS DOES KNOW this is most probable! All attendees at the STRS Board meeting have heard these figures as the projection. Leone, Lazares and Buser were dismayed and shocked! While raises were anticipated and some catch-up over 2006 expected, THIS WAS NOT the expectation by membership. Asbury told me it would be in the 12-15% range. He did not reveal the total picture which includes spouses for many. It may be in his range for beneficiaries but far exceeds that for spouses. I keep forgetting we need to ask specifically for each class as answers are only given for what they wish you to hear at the time.

John Bos to Senator Marc Dann: Allen County retired teachers ready to help!

Sent: Thursday, May 04, 2006
Subject: Republicans in Allen County are READY TO HELP!

Hi Friends,
Allen County Retired Teachers who have been robbed by the Taft, Montgomery, and Petro government are ready with time, money, and interest to elect you to attorney general position. This is a non-partisan vote to CLEAN UP OHIO!
John Bos
Elida, Ohio

Tom Curtis clears up questions from some actives

From Judy Long, May 04, 2006
Subject: Re: Fwd: 050306 Curtis To Loeffler, Praise To Board Members

Tom and Karen-
Thank you to both of you for taking the time to respond to my question. I am appalled at what has happened with STRS, and so glad there are people like you willing to get -- and stay -- involved so these people are held accountable.
Kudos to both of you!!!
Judy Long

Loeffler to Curtis, May 04, 2006
Subject: Re: 050306 Curtis To Loeffler, Praise To Board Members

Thank you so much for writing back. I will forward your response to Judy. I know that many people are reading the information I send out, so your efforts are noticed by many. Keep up the good work -- I do believe it is reaping benefits for many of us!!
Take care --
Karen : >

Curtis To Loeffler, Wed, 3 May 2006
Hello Karen,
Yes, I can answer your question. Executive Director Damon Asbury reported to the board that during March 2006, STRS Ohio benefits counselors met with 932 members. (People considering retirement) This was the second highest recorded month for STRS Ohio ever.
My comment was in praise of those board members that first raised questions about this portion of Dr. Asbury's report. Later, they requested a change in the current practice of what the counselors are telling, or actually not telling members about the cost of the HC benefit beginning in January 2007.
*The 1st board member question was: What are counselors telling perspective retirees the cost of the STRS HC is likely to be in 2007, after they have retired?
** Answer: We are telling them there will be an increase in 2007, but at this time, we do not know how much of an increase. We are showing them the 2006 total cost of the HC benefit, if they had to pay such (ex. a non-teaching spouse or dependent child) and the cost of the 2006 HC benefit to the benefit recipient.
* 2nd board member question: Are you telling them what the projected cost will be after January 2007?
** Answer: No, because we do not know at this time what that cost will be.
* 3rd board member question: So, you are not telling them what to expect for 2007?
** Answer: No, as we do not know that for sure.
***Directive by board to Asbury: This is not acceptable for people considering retirement. You know the 2007 projected cost close enough to provide them with that information. These people can then consider if they are willing to pay that much for HC once retired, or continue their employment. Many may decide not to retire, due to the high cost of the HC benefit. However, once they retire that decision is final. Please begin providing the 2007 projected cost to the members, since it will increase by as much as 27-32% for a non-teaching spouse above the 2006 cost.
The comments above are not direct quotes, but my paraphrasing of what was said. There was more discussion on this topic then I listed, but this is the basis for my comment of praising the board members who raised these questions. The questions came from Dennis Leone and Steve Buser, and were supported by Judith Fisher and John Lazares. I feel they acted very responsibly in requesting this change in information provided by benefit counselors.
There are many educators in Ohio who have had board paid medical benefits for some or all of their entire career. The high cost of HC coverage when they retire will be a bitter pill for them to swallow. Many retirees have already had to adjust to these changes for the past 6 years. There are roughly 13,000 retirees between 80 to 107. With the HC increases for 2007, many of these older retirees with thirty years of service my not be drawing a pension large enough to pay for HC for themselves and a non-teaching spouse. Think about that dilemma? What choices will they have to make? This is a really depressing scenario to me.
I hope this clarifies my comment. If not, please write back.
Take care,
Tom Curtis
CORE Advisory Committee Member

Karen Loeffler to Tom Curtis, May 03, 2006

Hi, Tom!
Can you help me out with this question? I forwarded your e-mail to our staff, but I no longer have the e-mails that explained this. Thanks for your help!
[An e-mail from Judy Long; quote from Curtis letter to STRS Board 04/30/06]: Karen Loeffler on Tuesday, May 2, 2006 at 9:08 AM +0000 wrote: In closing, I would like to add that I was very impressed by the board members who did take issue with the staff's manner in advising prospective retirees concerning the future cost of health care once they retired.
Karen - do you know what this is about? I haven't read all the emails you have sent, so if this is explained in another message, just send me that.
Thanks for keeping up on this!

[Quote from Curtis letter to STRS Board]: That was bold and right. This is the kind of direction the board should be giving. If this is looked at as micro managing, which really is not your job in the first place, then please find the right person to do it. I believe I can speak for the entire membership and state this is what the membership expects. We will not settle for less.

Tom Curtis, Canton Repository: STRS retirees are paying price for indulgences by Sidaway, other board members

Canton Repository
Thursday, May 4, 2006

Hazel Sidaway was found guilty of only two of the seven ethics violations she was originally charged with by the Columbus city attorney’s office concerning her inappropriate spending during about three of her 17 years of tenure on the State Teachers Retirement Board. (“Former teachers pension fund member convicted on 2 of 6 counts,” April 15).

During her tenure, she journeyed about the country, lavishing herself and often her husband with the many first-class accouterments of travel. Yet when she left the courtroom, her attorney indicated that she felt she was not guilty of any wrongdoing.

What a warped sense of perspective and entitlement this woman must have! This clearly shows the same arrogant attitude she commonly displayed to those of us who initially questioned her actions in 2003.

Ms. Sidaway obviously felt entitled to squander the money she was entrusted to care for by educators, but why? Was it simply because she spent so much time on the board that we “owed” it to her?

What other justification could she truly have?

In my opinion, she got off lightly, considering the thousands of STRS retirees who are today suffering financially because of the failure of the board she sat on to fulfill its fiduciary responsibility to the STRS membership. Many retirees now must spend more than one-third of their pension check to pay for their health care benefits.

Instead of tending to business, board members were too busy traveling about the country or planning for the grand new palace the STRS built, so they could all feel like corporate elitists.

Somehow it slipped their minds to maintain the health care stabilization fund we were promised would help pay for our health care for the rest of our lives.


Editorial from the Tribune Chronicle: STRS scam shows need for reform

"The STRS scams are similar to the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation scandals. Both organizations contain a layer of bureaucracy outside elected officials’ purview. The legislature should place oversight under somebody holding elected office, perhaps the state treasurer who is already responsible for most of the state’s investments."

From the Tribune Chronicle, Warren, OH (Trumbull County)
May 4, 2006

Every teacher in Trumbull County probably harbors anger for Hazel Sidaway. Actually, everybody in Trumbull County, and in the entire state, whether a teacher or not, should feel the indignation.

It is unlikely, though, that many non-educators have ever heard her name before.

Sidaway faces a $1,000 fine and six months in jail after jurors convicted her of ethics violations for not disclosing gifts received from companies doing business with the State Teachers Retirement System while she served on the STRS Board. The former Canton City Schools teacher accepted four tickets, valued at $120, to a Cleveland Indians game and two tickets, valued at $550, to the Broadway show ‘‘Hairspray.’’

She said she attended the events to discuss pension business. The only people attending the Indians game with her were her family members. She and her husband attended the play with other STRS board members and their families. She said STRS board members held appropriate meetings before and after the play and during intermission.

Prosecutor Lara N. Baker said Sidaway accepted so many free trips that traveling became a full-time job. Her attorney, H. Ritchey Hollenbaugh, said she still believes she did nothing wrong.

Former STRS executive director Herb Dyer pleaded guilty to a similar charge last year. STRS executive assistant Eileen Boles also faces charges. The Ohio Ethics Commission and prosecutors are investigating more board members and employees, past and present, including Jack H. Chapman, Mike N. Billirakis, Eugene E. Norris, Deborah Scott, Joseph I. Endry, Stephen Mitchell and more.

In their ‘‘culture of entitlement,’’ expensive travel, board meetings at lavish restaurants, resort golf, and other entertainment and recreation became the norm. During Sidaway’s trial it became clear that their abuses were so extravagant they would only attend jazz and blues clubs, at somebody else’s expense, if certain performers were on stage.

Several state teacher organizations recognize the need for change. The Ohio Conference of the American Association of Universities, Concerned Ohio Retired Educators and the Ohio Federation of Teachers endorse two candidates who pledge to reform STRS.

Taxpayers need more extensive reform. Rather than new board members, taxpayers need a system overhaul. It is not just educators who contribute to STRS. Since state universities, boards of education and educational service centers match a percentage of employee contributions, Ohio taxpayers also contribute to STRS.

Yet, only educators vote on board members. That is why people outside the teaching industry are unfamiliar with Sidaway. There is nobody for taxpayers to hold accountable.

The STRS scams are similar to the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation scandals. Both organizations contain a layer of bureaucracy outside elected officials’ purview. The legislature should place oversight under somebody holding elected office, perhaps the state treasurer who is already responsible for most of the state’s investments.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Captain Kickback becomes toast: A commentary from John Curry

May 2, 2006
Primary Election Day in the Buckeye State

Jimmy Petro, one of the former "Era of Entitlement" STRS Board members, has been defeated in his bid for our governor! I don't think very many STRS retirees will shed a tear over this news! Looks like his old favorite term-limited "musical chairs" game of jumping from Secretary of State to Attorney General has finally come to an end -- so will his OPERS retirement! Captain Kickback will have to find a new racket!!

The other politically active Era of Entitlement former STRS Board member and term-limited musical chairs participant, Betty Montgomery, is still waiting for the music to stop. Maybe we at CORE can show her the exit door come November.

Stay tuned; if Kenny Blackwell starts Bible thumping (again) this time around with Ted Strickland (a former REAL minister) -- Kenny might get out-thumped! These next six months will be very interesting -- time will TEL (Tax Expenditure Legislation), won't it? Then again, if Strickland is defeated, he could always go back to his former job of being a prison psychologist -- heck, he might even be able to counsel an ethically challenged STRS board member or associate!

John, Today -- A VERY PROUD CORE member

A National Scandal - from Suddenly Senior

May 2, 2006
Comment from John Curry:
This author "slams" both sides of the aisle and pulls no punches. If you are a "straight party line thinker" -- either a "D" or an "R"-- you will find that this author (Daniel Hines) is an equal opportunity offender! If you are willing to read what he says I think you can see why, in this country, the almighty dollar takes precedence over the quality and costs of medical services and Rx that are offered to the citizens of this country. Maybe the phrase, "We the people......" should be updated and revised to, "We the pharmaceutical manufacturers..." or "We the Medical Insurance Industry....!" I think it is time to close this commentary and take my Lipitor
(manufactured in Ireland and imported to a country where our FDA will be looking out for my safety and health -- just like they did with Vioxx)! Currently, in this country, patriotism has a newly legislated color -- green. It is not the green of Ireland, it's the green shade of U.S. currency. John
A National Scandal:
Why is the U.S. the only industrialized nation that does not believe that health care for all is a national priority, or a right that will benefit the nation?
By Daniel Hines Publisher America's Seniors
The first week of May marks Cover the Uninsured Week. It is a period that should cause all Americans to pause and reflect upon what passes for a 'national health care' policy and the impact it has on the well-being of our fellow citizens both individually as well as collectively.
In the vernacular of the streets, it is time to 'call out' those who continue to thwart the U.S. from moving into the 21st Century by joining other industrialized wealthy nations that offer total health care coverage for its citizens, rather than failing to address the total health care needs of the nation by providing universal single payer health care coverage for all citizens. Instead, our elected and appointed leadership continue to place the profits of large pharmaceutical manufacturers, insurance companies and others ahead of the health of its citizens.
Again, it is time to call out the people who are willing to sacrifice the health of Americans for their own personal ambitions, be they financial or political.
This includes Senate Majority Leader Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) for their refusal to allow the Senate and House to act upon the Holy Grail at which each otherwise worships, the 'up or down vote' by denying a vote on providing Americans access to safe, affordable prescription medicines from pharmacies outside the U.S.
It includes FDA officials who claim that they cannot establish a system to 'guarantee' the safety of prescription drugs offered by licensed registered pharmacies from outside the U.S., while at the same time, that same FDA oversees manufacturing plants at exotic locations around the world, but still attempt to deceive the American public into believing that the prescriptions they purchase are American in origin.
It includes Homeland Security officials who seize legally prescribed prescription drugs that provide a vital lifeline for America's elderly and others who would be denied access to prescription drugs, claiming that they (the officials) are protecting America in the name of 'national security.'
It includes arrogant Medicare bureaucrats who, in the face of repeated calls for an extension of the Medicare Part D enrollment period, dismiss our elected officials saying that Congress, once having passed a law, can't change its mind.
It includes Congressmen and Senators who failed to do their homework on Medicare Part D, apparently turning the homework over to staffers for whom the passage of legislation too often becomes more important than the purpose for which a bill was introduced in the first place.
It includes those same Congressmen and Senators (of both parties) who continue to accept huge donations from the profit-driven companies with bloated profits and smug CEOs who make millions of dollars while 45 million Americans face bankruptcy, financial distress or failing health that can lead to debilitating disease or death--a specter that extends even to our nation's children, who thus are joined with our elderly as the country's most vulnerable citizens.
It includes those who support a war that has cost trillions of dollars, thousands of lives, even more disabilities, and who claim to be protecting the best interests of America, but who also claim that it would 'bankrupt' us to take that same money towards providing jobs, health care insurance, and an infrastructure for the U.S. as part of a total strategic approach to improving the lives of all Americans.
It includes those businessmen who view governmental service as an opportunity to enrich themselves by enriching their companies, as the case of the head of the VA who, during his two-year stint, oversaw the awarding of $1.8 billion in contracts to his old company, which he later rejoined as CEO. Or Congressman Billy Tauzin, who, after derailing a provision in Part D to allow the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers for lower prices in Part D, resigned his Congressional seat to take a $2 million a year job as CEO of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association in Washington. The list continues to grow and graft is so common-place among our elected officials and others that it almost seems to be sanctioned, at least until someone gets caught.
It includes so-called 'seniors' advocacy' groups such as the Senior Coalition that sends an aging 'Grandma Green' across the nation on a beautiful John Madden-type bus to warn seniors of 'the dangers' of prescription drugs from pharmacies outside the U.S by scaring the daylights out of them with false claims about safety and efficacy, all the while claiming to represent those same seniors whom it is misleading.
And, finally, it includes a President who suffers from a terrible disconnect with the needs of people outside his patrician crowd and partisan-staged journeys into the heartland of America. What is needed is a return to the common-sense Republicans such as Eisenhower and Dirksen that once characterized their party. What is needed is a return to the FDR-Harry Truman-type Democrats who had vision and integrity, or JFK, who saw that things could be better, rather than the policy wonks of the current Democratic leadership that couldn't organize a two-car funeral.
A good place to start would be a broad sweeping broom of those who feel that it is more important that America be an imperial power, not unlike that of Rome, rather than a country in which government is the servant of the people, and that it is the job of government to do what is right.
It is time for us to send to Washington and to state legislatures and local offices, those who will believe that it is their duty to attempt to do the most good for the most people the most of the time within their ability to do so.
A good place to start is to stop the train wreck that will occur unless some action is taken to provide all our citizens with a health care strategy to improve the well-being of a healthy public.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Campaign flyer: Tom Hall






Professor Tom Hall of Miami University holds a doctorate in economics, with experience at the US State Department Bureau of Economics and Business Affairs, serving on the Planning and Economic Analysis Staff. He has authored numerous books and articles on business cycles, market structure performance, velocity and variability of monetary growth, economic fluctuations and productivity. His prolific background and expertise in investment, market trends and economics enable Tom Hall to bring his valuable skills and knowledge to the STRS Board on how the economy operates and factors which impact the values of stocks, bonds and real estate, which constitute the bulk of the STRS investment portfolio.

Outraged at the misspending by the former STRS board, dipping into the membership’s money, Tom Hall is adamant that this kind of behavior never be repeated. His goal is to help lead the board to solutions to current issues by utilizing his background to:

  • Hold down operating costs, administrative bloat and overhead
  • Prudently oversee the investment portfolio, safely and properly diversifying funds
  • Strictly adhere to ORC: 3307.15 by acting solely on behalf of membership for member benefits
  • Seek avenues that permit the continuation of health care and prescription benefits for all retirees, current and future.
  • Communicate with and be responsive, with an open door, to membership, with no affiliation to any organization seeking to influence him.

CORE feels this candidate will come to the Board well prepared and informed on the history of misspending at STRS and the issues he will face as a Board member. Tom Hall strongly favors securing your future retirement and health care. Please help keep STRS independent with board members who represent YOU, as dictated by law, and not a particular organization.

Only actives, inactives and disability retirees may vote in this election. Ballots will be mailed in early April, to be returned by early May. Please mark April 11 on your calendar with the name of Tom Hall. When your ballot arrives near that date, his name will be there as a reminder to cast your ballot for him.

Campaign flyer: Mark Fredrick






Mark Fredrick is an active classroom English teacher who has taught for 25 years in the Cleveland Municipal Schools and provides leadership for students and colleagues in solving problems. He understands the drain of charter schools on public education, the results of the NCLB Act, and legal issues concerning retirement. Mark has the background in economics and accounting to assist the Board in budget planning, with attention to line items and review of contracts and documents. As an English teacher, he brings practical experience and the ability to handle the heavy reading workload that challenges new Board members. With his background and experience he will hit the ground running.

In addition to his dynamic thinking approach for problem solving, Mark displays a remarkable ability to connect with his constituency. An independent thinker, he welcomes interaction with the membership as his only influence, and hails the ORC 3307.15 (putting the interests of the STRS membership above all else) as the SOLE mission for Board members. Mark is determined to see that integrity and trust are restored to the STRS. Holding himself accountable, he invites the membership to scrutinize all his actions as a member of the STRS Board.

Also endorsed by the OFT, CORE feels this candidate will come to the Board well prepared and informed on the history of misspending at the STRS and the issues he will face as a Board member. He strongly favors securing your future retirement and health care. Mark Fredrick is not bound by any organization's politics or agenda. Please help keep the STRS independent with Board members who represent YOU, as dictated by law and not the influence of a particular organization.

Only actives, inactives and disability retirees may vote in this election. Ballots will be mailed in early April, to be returned by early May. Please “Mark” April 11 on your calendar. When your ballot arrives near that date, Mark Fredrick’s name will be there as a reminder to vote for him.

Debating the Impact of High-Deductible Health Plans

Debating the Impact of High-Deductible Health Plans

By Albert B. Crenshaw, Washington Post

Sunday, April 30, 2006; F08

The current Next Big Thing in controlling health-care costs is "consumer-driven" medical insurance.

These plans combine a high-deductible insurance policy with a tax-preferred savings/investment account. The theory is that the insurance will protect you against catastrophic medical costs -- and pay for most preventive care -- while the savings account can be used to pay for health-care items not covered by the policy.

And if you don't spend the money in the account, you get to keep it, allowing it to accumulate against the day when you really get sick and need it to pay the deductible and perhaps some related costs.

The plans are already spreading rapidly. If you have employer-sponsored health insurance, you will likely find one of these offered to you in the next year or two, if you haven't already.

The plans are also available in the individual health-insurance market.

Proponents of these plans argue that they give you an incentive not to use health care you don't really need and to shop carefully for the care you do need. This newfound cost-consciousness, the thinking goes, puts downward pressure on prices throughout the system.

The theory seems to make sense. It's the reality that's a problem.

In the real world, a very small percentage of the population accounts for a very large percentage of health-care spending. By contrast, a large majority "consume" relatively little health care each year.

A recent study by benefits consultants Watson Wyatt Worldwide found that among a group of large employers, which Watson Wyatt has followed closely over the past 11 years, 72 percent of workers and their families account for only 11 percent of employer health-care expenditures annually. At the same time, a tiny group -- 4 percent -- account for almost half (49 percent) of the employer costs.

What this means, said Ted Nussbaum, Watson Wyatt's director of health-care consulting in North America, is that while a large share of the population -- the low-cost three-quarters -- could be influenced by economic incentives to curb health-care spending, that would affect only a small portion of costs overall.

Meanwhile, the high-consuming 4 percent "are really sick people, and a $1,000 or $2,000 deduction is not going to change their behavior very much," Nussbaum said. Parents of a premature baby, for example, aren't likely to be doing an economic analysis of their infant's care.

The conclusion, he added, is that "in and of themselves, the high-deductible health plans have a zero impact on health-care [cost] trends. Clearly, if you ask people to pay more money, you will get a one-time reduction in the base cost. But they have a zero impact on annual trends."

"This is not to suggest we think these plans are bad," he added. It's just that "these plans are not enough" to rein in health-care costs.

Merrill Matthews Jr., director of the Council for Affordable Health Insurance, which favors consumer-driven plans, said he disagreed with some of Watson Wyatt's findings.

The very sick who have big claims on their high-deductible policies indeed do "move back into the same old insulation from cost, but that's what you wanted insurance to do," protect you from catastrophes, Matthews said.

But he said there is more opportunity to influence outlays by individuals in the middle -- the remaining 24 percent who account for 40 percent of costs -- than the study suggests.

However, in Watson Wyatt's view, the greatest impact on costs comes from other changes in employers' approach to health care. This means using a number of programs and focusing them on the segments of the workforce where they will be most effective.

At one end of the scale, it means looking at health improvement and productivity together. Many employers view issues such as absenteeism as separate from health care, "and we know those kinds of things are related," he said.

It also means trying to keep healthy workers healthy -- encouraging smoking cessation, weight loss and other steps toward healthier ways of living.

At the other end of the scale, it means health plans that guide sick workers to cost-effective doctors, hospitals and other providers.

It also includes directing those with severe illness or injury to high-quality treatment facilities.

Nussbaum noted that high-quality treatment can often bring about major cost savings even though such providers' fees may seem high. This is because such treatment typically results in lower rates of infection, fewer readmissions to hospitals, and the like, and shorter recovery times. When all this is taken into account, seemingly expensive doctors and hospitals often produce big savings.

"In some areas of the country, using high-quality care centers may cut [insurance] plan expenditures for the most expensive cases in half," Nussbaum said.

Among the companies in the study, the two-year growth in health-care costs ranged from 3 to 11.5 percent, with the average coming in at 8 percent. The firms with the lowest rise tended to be the ones that were applying all the different strategies and adjusting them as they go along.

For a worker in today's environment, the study's findings argue for a reexamination of the approach to health care. Health care is now so expensive for employers that many doubt they will be able to continue providing it many years hence.

So it's in your interest to keep costs down. This doesn't mean skimping on necessary treatment -- that's often counterproductive -- but it does mean working to improve your own health.

Preventive care is usually cheap or even fully covered by insurance, including high-deductible plans, so get that physical exam, those inoculations, mammograms and the like.

If you have a chronic ailment such as diabetes and your company has a case-management program, take advantage of it. Your first thought might be, oh, they're just trying to save money, but since keeping you in better health is the best way to do that, you have a convergence of interests.

It's getting to be a new world out there, with workers shouldering ever more responsibility. But in the case of health care, if more responsibility means you take better care of yourself, perhaps it's not all bad.

* * *

The Bush administration insists that it's not trying to kill the traditional defined benefit pension system, but some of its actions suggest otherwise. Last week, the Department of Energy announced it will no longer reimburse contractors for the expenses associated with traditional pensions. Instead it will reimburse only for costs of 401(k) and similar plans. The change affects only new hires; costs for pensions for existing workers and retirees will continue to be reimbursed, the agency said.

"The new policy recognizes the contributions of current and retired contractor employees and, at the same time, ensures that future costs for pension and medical benefits are more consistent with market trends," the department said.

Sylvester J. Schieber, director of U.S. benefits consulting at Watson Wyatt Worldwide, said, "The fact that a government agency is forcing private employers to provide only do-it-yourself, 401(k)-style plans is outrageous. For decades, public policy has supported the notion that the best way to ensure Americans' retirement security is through guaranteed pensions. We find it curious that a government agency is threatening the retirement security of workers outside their department."

Thanks to June Hughes for submitting this article.

Tom Curtis: Letter to STRS Board

April 30, 2006
Hello STRS Board Members,
First, I want to express my sincere appreciation to each of you for the large commitment of time and dedication you provide to the STRS retirement system. Your task is a daunting one, to say the very least. I am sure, too, that a great deal of family support is also required in order for you to be able to do this job, and I can appreciate this, too.
At the same time, most of you made the decision to become a member of this board and were elected to your position by various groups of educators throughout the state. Four of you were appointed by one or more people to represent the Department of Education and/or our state government. Your dedication to serving your community and state by doing so is extremely admirable, given that you do not receive any monetary compensation for doing so. The combined experience, knowledge and expertise of this current board far exceeds that of any board before you in the history of the STRS. In my opinion, after closely observing monthly board meetings for the past three years, it is evident that the demands on your abilities are unparalleled and unprecedented. There is a huge amount of work to be done. The need to become a cohesive board is one of grave importance, more than ever before.
Having elected seven of the eleven board members, the STRS membership can only hope all eleven of you will fulfill your fiduciary responsibility according to ORC 3307.15. No doubt it is obvious by now that if we feel you have not done your legal, moral and ethical duty in this respect, we will not hesitate to tell you so, as we expect accountability from each and every one of you. We sincerely hope you fully understand what that section of the ORC requires of you, as this is what the membership is going to hold you to from this point forward.
You may recall that I addressed the board on April 20th, 2006, requesting that each of you read Dr. Dennis Leone's two position papers presented to the STRS board and executive staff in 2003: his initial investigative report on the spending and management practices at STRS and his recommendations for change. These documents were presented to the board and executive staff of the STRS in 2003. They are still highly relevant and should never have had to be called to the attention of this board from one who was an outsider at the time.
As I stated on April 20th, I find few issues in these documents that have been addressed to the satisfaction of the membership. It is inexcusable that this was not done a long time ago. Since they have for the most part been blatantly ignored by the executive director and senior staff, I feel it is my duty to again bring them to your attention, especially those of you who are new to this board. Tenured members are very much aware of these documents, though some have evidently chosen to ignore them. This is unconscionable and irresponsible, and will not be tolerated any longer.
As I stated that day, I pledge to continue to bring these two documents before the board on a monthly basis, if necessary, until I feel all the issues contained in them have been appropriately dealt with. Furthermore, if I see little or no evidence of progress to this effect in a timely manner, I see no choice but to file an official complaint with the Attorney General's office requesting such action on your part.
I will see that you each receive copies of both of Dr. Leone's reports, either by email or by snail mail (for those who do not email) and expect to receive a response from each board member concerning your own personal thoughts and your intentions concerning this matter.
I have spent a great deal of time and money over the past three years, attempting to understand the many issues and undertakings of STRS board members. I have not and probably never will sit in your seat, so I realize I cannot fully appreciate your position. This is why I ask many questions of many of you; at least those of you who are willing to communicate with me and with other STRS members with any regularity. I understand this can be very time consuming, but I urge you strongly to show us you are actually addressing the issues.
By now you are well aware that I am in this until I feel confident the STRS membership and I are being well represented by our board members. You must direct the staff as to the best practices according to 3307.15, which has not happened for some time now. Instead, others and I feel the management has directed the board according to their own desires by using expensive and unnecessary consulting firms to "justify" and document their position, all at the expense of the retirement fund. This must be stopped immediately and accountability by the board must be restored.
In closing, I would like to add that I was very impressed by the board members who did take issue with the staff's manner in advising prospective retirees concerning the future cost of health care once they retired. That was bold and right. This is the kind of direction the board should be giving. If this is looked at as micro managing, which really is not your job in the first place, then please find the right person to do it. I believe I can speak for the entire membership and state this is what the membership expects. We will not settle for less.
Thomas Curtis
CORE Advisory Committee Member

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Kathie Bracy's Blog hits 10K

Thanks, John. Equal kudos go to you for your incredible and unflagging work running the "CORE E-mail Clearinghouse" and to all who provide the material for my blog with their timely and relevant commentaries on a wide variety of issues, ranging in timbre (oops -- that's a musical term!!) from mild to explosive. For the most part, I am only the messenger, just as you are. Dennis has even dubbed me a "Weapon of Mass Instruction." I take that as a high compliment -- thanks, Dennis!! I do want to point out, too, that my hit counter was just added on January 15, 2006; I sure have a lot of people to thank for reading it, as well as contributing to it these past three and a half months and more!! THANKS, EVERYBODY -- KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!! THIS BLOG WOULDN'T "BE" WITHOUT YOU!!!
~ Kathie Bracy
April 30, 2006
From John Curry
Congratulations are in order for Kathie Bracy! Her STRS commentary website ( has just achieved 10,000 hits (10,006 to be exact)!! How did she do it? Well, for starters, she puts in print what is and has transpired at STRS - ALL IN A TIMELY MANNER. She pulls no punches and is not indebted to monied organizations who wish to protect their interests by only allowing half-truths to reach the eyes of their readers OR sidestepping commentary concerning crucial and controversial STRS issues by ignoring them. Censorship is not a word in her vocabulary. She is, indeed, "educating the educators!"
Other STRS related commentary website "hit counters" as of this writing:
ORTA website: 8,351 (
Ohio STRS Watch blog: 2,352 (
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
web page counter
Vermont Teddy Bear Company