Saturday, January 19, 2008

RH Jones: Take care of business and PASS HB 315!

RH Jones to John Curry, January 19, 2008
Subject: Re: I thought STRS was paid "upfront" but now......apparentl not!
Another charter school....another ripoff!
John Curry and all:
How in the world can the Ohio STRS know that these charter school teaching employees meet any state standards of certification? A for-profit school has only one thing in mind: profit! They could care less about state certification requirements. When it comes to profit, cheaper is best. Therefore, the legislature needs do away with these type of "schools" that are taking tax dollars away from our STRS and public school districts.
And, all the while, the Ohio School Boards Association claims the STRS needs to provide the funding increase for health care for retired teachers instead of them, the employer. Where do they think the STRS will get the money?. They stood back and did little to stop the creation of for-profit schooling. And with a organization called the Ohio Association of Business Managers, a group of "leaders" who have lead Ohio down into high unemployment and recession, think in the same way. With unscrupulous politicians who created and voted for the for-profit schools, together, they all need to realize the wrong that they have done to Ohio and Ohio's children and their elderly retired teachers. I do think we, as their public school teachers, did fail in the subject of their business education, or they would know better. Perhaps there also needs to be more emphasis on teaching for the common good. Take care of business and PASS HB 315!
This is my personal opinion,
RHJones, a STRS retired members and registered Ohio voter
From John Curry, January 10, 2008
Subject: I thought STRS was paid "upfront" but now......apparently not! Another charter school....another ripoff!
Closed charter schools' mess lingers Harte Crossroads owes millions, report says
Thursday, January 10, 2008

By Jennifer Smith Richards

The charter schools in Columbus City Center crashed and burned months ago, but their ashes continue to smolder.
The forensic accountant appointed in April to seize Harte Crossroads Public Schools' assets and sort through the wreckage of their finances recently provided this tally:
• $2.66 million could be owed to 188 creditors. Former teachers want to be paid, as do the schools' vendors and the State Teachers Retirement System. The schools also were behind on rent and apparently hadn't paid for school lunches.
Closed charter schools' mess lingers Harte Crossroads owes millions, report says Thursday, January 10, 2008 3:28 AM By Jennifer Smith Richards
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH The charter schools in Columbus City Center crashed and burned months ago, but their ashes continue to smolder.
The forensic accountant appointed in April to seize Harte Crossroads Public Schools' assets and sort through the wreckage of their finances recently provided this tally:
• $2.66 million could be owed to 188 creditors. Former teachers want to be paid, as do the schools' vendors and the State Teachers Retirement System. The schools also were behind on rent and apparently hadn't paid for school lunches.
• More than $1 million is owed in taxes and to federal and state education departments for grants.
• An auction of school furniture and supplies raised $7,826.50 to help pay those debts. But missing computers -- maybe dozens -- are presumed stolen.
Only one other school, the International Preparatory School in Cleveland, closed with similar fireworks. It, too, is ensnared in litigation and is under receivership.
"The whole thing is just one big tragedy on so many levels," said Anita Nelam, who founded and operated Harte Crossroads.
As of Tuesday, 77 students who were on Harte Crossroads' student list had not enrolled in the Columbus City Schools or another area charter school, a district spokesman said. About 130 students enrolled in the Columbus district.
The charters opened as two single-sex schools in 2004 and operated in the mall until March 2006.
Shortly after they closed, claims were made against the schools by their former sponsor, the Ohio attorney general, the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Taxation.
A state audit of the schools, whose books were declared unauditable a year ago, is now under way.
The receiver, Rebekah Smith, a forensic accountant with GBQ Partners in Columbus, organized the summer auction. After paying for storage, advertising and an auctioneer, Smith was left with $2,164.67.
In her latest report to a judge, she said she is working with the schools' banks to make sure funds are accounted for.
She said if wrongdoing by directors and officers is proved, she might be able to make an insurance claim.
The receiver's report also says she might try to recover money from Nelam, who moved to South Carolina. She now works as director of operations for Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign in South Carolina.
Nelam said no one has contacted her.
A significant amount of money could come from federal funding for school lunches that was never paid because the schools apparently never submitted the proper paperwork. The receiver plans to file that paperwork when she finds records justifying it. Half of the records still haven't been located.
Sorting through the financial rubble will take at least several months, said Todd Marti, an assistant attorney general in Ohio. It could take years, he said.
"I guess the takeaway from this whole thing is this is a huge mess," Marti said. "We need to do things to prevent these things from happening rather than clean up afterwards."
A forensic accountant said she may try to recover money from Anita Nelam, who founded the schools and operated them until 2006.

Friday, January 18, 2008

RH Jones re: Lloyd Knudsen's speech

From Bob Jones, January 18, 2008
Subject:CORE's Lloyd Knudsen to STRS Board 1/17/08
To all:
The following is my personal thoughts on Lloyd Knudsen's terrific speech to the STRS Board yesterday. It is especially timely when yesterday's Cleveland news mentioned another public school teacher severely assaulted and hospitalized while on the job.
RHJones, a retired STRS member
From Bob Jones, January 18, 2008
Subject: Re: CORE's Lloyd Knudsen to STRS Board 1/17/08
WOW! What a wonderful speech.
In regard to those state politicians who, as you said, interfered in our Sudan investments, demanded we Buy Ohio, siphoned money from public schools to give to private schools, and who are trying to kill HB 315 (The employer/employee retired teacher health care increase.) I would like them to them to know: we shall NOT forget. A primary election is coming in March. They will soon find out what Tom Jefferson, 1747-1826, once said: "The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave". We are boisterously, through the modern internet, following how they stood on each issue. And waves of us are, and will, let the active/retired teachers know of their negative assaults toward public education and retired teacher health care.
Thanks again Lloyd Knudsen.
Bob Jones

Dennis Leone re: Mary Ann Cervantes' viewpoint and empowering the executive director; a history lesson some wish to forget

From Dennis Leone, January 18, 2008
Subject: RE: Cervantes Response
I agree with the retiree response sent to me: "I found her response lacking in substance." D.L.
Dennis Leone to John Curry and Molly Janczyk, January 14, 2008
Subject: Re: Cervantes Response: Request Again: Ques. for STRS Board Members: 1/10/08
John and Molly: I take exception with Mary Ann's quotation below. Her comment -- "Certainly STRS's recent court case has cost this pension millions of dollars due to unfair labor practices" is a huge exaggeration. In the fall of 2005, non-investment staff members received one more bonus check after they sued to get it. Since the prior board eliminated the program mid year, instead of the end of the year, the court was prepared to award the non-investment staff one more, final bonus check. The judge felt there was an implied contract because the STRS employee handbook said they'd be eligible (upon approval of the executive director, who -- surprise -- approved the bonuses), and even though said employees had no individual contracts or union contract. The millions that were spent were due to the bonuses and the inappropriateness of the board legal counsel agreeing to also pay the employees' personal PERS contributions even though he did not have board approval to do so. This was the matter, to refresh your memory, when John Lazares and I begged the board NOT to approve the settlement agreement unless we had a document in hand. The board majority felt no document was needed, which meant that there was no way to prove anything when the board's legal counsel changed the final terms of the settlement agreement WITHOUT prior board approval. This whole thing was NOT so much a matter of the board engaging in an unfair labor practice (that seems Mary Ann's union-trained mind speaking again) as it was simply ignorance on the board's part for offering the non-investment staff bonuses in the first place, and also allowing the arrangement to be in the employee handbook -- giving the executive director the power to award them. History lesson. Some people want to forget.
Dennis Leone

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January Board News from STRS

From STRS, January 18, 2008
Subject: [News] January Board News Details Retirement Board Actions and Discussions
This week, the State Teachers Retirement Board held its monthly meeting. Following the regularly scheduled meetings, a report titled "Board News" is posted on the STRS Ohio Web site, as well as mailed to a number of members and education organization representatives who have requested it. As a member of STRS Ohio with an e-mail address on file, you will also receive this report each month. The January report follows.
STRS OHIO INVESTMENT RETURNS TO DATE REFLECT MARKET UNCERTAINTY For the first half of this fiscal year, the preliminary total fund return on STRS Ohio's investment assets is 1.99%, compared to the total fund benchmark return through Dec. 31, 2007, of 1.55%. At this time, STRS Ohio staff is forecasting low economic growth during the remainder of fiscal 2008 as the economy works through the housing downturn, energy shocks and a credit crunch. This slow, or even slightly negative growth, may already be factored in stock prices; the U.S. stock market has declined nearly 14% from its peak this fiscal year.
When staff presented its Annual Investment Plan for this fiscal year in June 2007, a lower total fund return for STRS Ohio of approximately 7% was projected after four consecutive fiscal years of double-digit returns. Looking forward, staff still believes aggressive monetary policy stimuli (such as a continued reduction in interest rates for federal funds by the Federal Reserve Board) could avert a recession in the United States. However, should a recession develop, it would likely be the third consecutive short and mild recession since 1990. At its February meeting, the Retirement Board will receive an economic update and initial forecast for fiscal year 2009.
DISABILITY PROGRAM INITIATIVES IMPROVE PROCESS FOR MEMBERS AND ENSURE FIDUCIARY OVERSIGHT Since October 2005, the State Teachers Retirement Board has spent considerable time studying the disability program for STRS Ohio members. As a result, the board undertook several initiatives, including:
• Streamlined the disability application process (effective July 1, 2006). By establishing a Disability Review Panel (consisting of three elected board members) to replace the Disability Committee and shortening the appeal process, the processing time on disability cases was reduced while preserving peer review. As a result, members and disability benefit recipients are receiving more timely decisions on their requests for benefits or continuation of benefits.
• Conducted two special review projects. The board requested review of all disability recipients with benefits effective during the past 10 years that had not been reviewed during the standard four-year review cycle process implemented in 1999. The board also requested review of all cases recommended for approval by the Disability Committee rather than the Medical Review Board. As a result of these two projects, the Medical Review Board chair reviewed a total of 1,479 disability recipient files. Subsequent reexamination of some members and review of their cases by five independent medical examiners resulted in the disability benefits for 23 individuals being discontinued; of this group, 14 were eligible for service retirement. The overall annual reduction in benefit payments totals $466,544.
• Developed an information piece to be mailed annually to disability benefit recipients. This document reminds members about the importance of keeping their teaching license current, enrolling in Medicare when eligible, and completing an employment and earnings statement annually. It also reviews reemployment restrictions and reminds disability recipients that STRS Ohio has the right to reexamine disability recipients.
During the January board meeting, staff noted that the number of STRS Ohio members receiving disability benefits is reasonable compared to the overall benefit recipient population; about 5% of benefit recipients are receiving disability benefits.
RETIREMENT, INVESTMENT TRANSACTIONS APPROVED The Retirement Board approved the following retirements and investment transactions:
• 187 active members for service retirement; 164 inactive retirements.
• In December, fixed-income purchases totaled $790 million, domestic equity purchases totaled $79 million and real estate purchases totaled $98 million.
OHIO RETIREMENT STUDY COUNCIL HOLDS FIRST MEETING OF NEW YEAR At its January meeting, the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) voted to approve for adoption a package of amendments proposed by STRS Ohio. At one time, the amendments had been part of House Bill 272 from the previous General Assembly, but were eventually removed as the Legislature sought to scale back that legislation. Rep. Michelle Schneider has agreed to include the amendments as part of House Bill 270, the reemployed retiree legislation currently pending in the House Financial Institutions, Real Estate and Securities Committee. The amendments are largely technical in nature; the package does include the amendment to stagger the terms of the two retired seats on the board to allow one retired member to be elected for a one-time, six-year term and the other seat to be elected for a four-year term.
Sen. Kirk Schuring, chair of the ORSC, asked the five system directors for an update on the status of the various divestiture policies adopted earlier this fall. OPERS and STRS Ohio reported they had responded in writing earlier in December at the request of House Speaker Jon Husted and were currently involved in contacting companies to determine their involvement with Iran and Sudan. The Highway Patrol Retirement System reported it had no investments in companies potentially involved in business in Iran or Sudan. OP&F reported it had already divested of approximately 25% of its holdings through the normal course of business.
QUARTERLY SURVEY RESULTS REFLECT PREMIER SERVICE Callers to the Member Services Center between Dec. 13 and Dec. 19 were given the opportunity to remain on the phone and answer five questions regarding the service they received. More than 26% of the callers chose to participate in the automated survey with 99% responding that they were satisfied with the service they received. In fact, more than 88% were extremely pleased with the overall service. Callers gave the member service representatives their highest scores in regards to the representative's ability to understand the caller's needs. During this past year, the Member Services Center took 277,000 calls with an average speed of answer of 29 seconds.
BENEFITS COUNSELORS WRAP UP FALL TRAVEL SEASON Benefits counselors visited 31 sites and completed more than 100 weeks in the field this past fall. Counselors will typically spend five weeks on the road during the fall and six weeks during the spring, with field counseling accounting for about 9,000 appointments per year.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR MEMBER AND EMPLOYER ENGAGEMENT CONTINUE Due to the efforts of individual Health Care Champions, as well as members of the Health Care Advocates for STRS, we continue to be provided with opportunities to talk to members and employers about House Bill 315. Discussions have been held, or are scheduled through April, with the Lakeland Community College board of trustees, as well as school boards representing the Willoughby-Eastlake City Schools, Chillicothe City Schools, Cardington-Lincoln Local Schools, Xenia Community City Schools, Brunswick City Schools, Clear Fork Valley Local Schools and Warren Local Schools. Meetings with nine different retiree groups are also scheduled through April.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

'Block 4' exposed: They WANT the executive director to have the power to pay those legal fees!!

Dennis Leone to Molly Janczyk, January 17, 2008
Subject: Questions Posed at STRS Board Meeting
Molly – at today’s STRS Board meeting, I posed three questions publicly to Asst. State Attorney General John Patterson. Here are they, plus Patterson’s answers, which are on the tape of the meeting:
1. If an STRS employee in member benefits feels she was threatened by an angry retiree, and if this employee goes outside and decides to hire a law firm to give her advice, then if this employee turns in a legal bill to Damon Asbury after the fact, isn’t it true that Damon has the power to have STRS pay the bill without board involvement or board action?
Patterson answer: Yes, current board policy gives him this power.
2. Does the board have the power to decide that such a bill will not be paid?
Patterson answer: Yes.
3. If you (John Patterson) happened to recommend to the board that STRS pay the legal fees of a staff member in a situation like this, doesn’t the board have the power to tell you no, we’re not going to do that?
Patterson answer: Yes.
So much for Mark Meuser’s belief that the State Attorney General will always decide whether the board will or will not provide outside legal counsel advice to an employee, of whether a bill must be paid. The bottom line is that it’s the board power to decide what to do. It is plainly nuts that this board permits the executive director to make these kinds of crazy expenditures, when simple policies would prevent it. Meuser, Cervantes, Chapman and Ramser just need to tell the truth – which is that they WANT the executive director to have the power to pay these things.
Dennis Leone

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Lloyd Knudsen’s speech to STRS Board, January 17, 2008

Good afternoon. My name is Lloyd Knudsen. I was a 30-year teacher in the Woodridge Local Schools of Summit County.

I was not here for the December STRS board meeting to hear the OEA President address this board. But after reading her speech I think it’s fair to say that OEA thinks several members of this board (with their incessant questioning and amending of board policies) are NOT being very good “team players”. You’re supposed to act as a team, right? OEA would tell you there’s no “I” in “team.”

Let me give you one retiree’s opinion on that topic. I have been coming to STRS board meetings for the last three and a half years. There have been more thoughtful questions raised and open and honest discussion of STRS issues by this board in the past six months than I witnessed in the entire three year period prior to that. Please do NOT let last month’s public reprimand by the OEA president quiet your voices or your sometimes “heated” discussions.

OEA would have us believe that a board that sits calmly and politely agreeing on everything or in other words that that “speaks with one voice” is a good thing. I would suggest that prior to SB 133 that’s exactly the type of STRS Boards we had. Boards prior to SB 133 had only nine members -- with five of those members being active teachers who usually enjoyed OEA support. Time after time with one calm, polite and collective voice, our OEA majority Boards agreed to build that magnificent new STRS building; agreed to give virtually every STRS employee a bonus just for doing his/her job; agreed to give access to subsidized day care to all employees; agreed to spend pension money on lavish STRS parties and trips; and even agreed to accept gifts for themselves from our STRS vendors.

The “one voice” Boards didn’t serve us well then and they won’t serve us well now. Each of you has a voice on this board. Use it and don’t let OEA or anyone else try to silence you.

OEA’s President also inferred in her speech that certain recent Board motions “undermine trust and confidence” in STRS. I’m not sure whose trust and confidence OEA thinks is being undermined, but let’s look at the possible candidates. Is it our state politicians? Isn’t that the same group that interfered in our Sudan investments? Isn’t that the same group that demanded Buy Ohio? Isn’t that the same group that continues to siphon money from our public schools to give to charter schools? And, isn’t that the same group that has already declared HB 315 dead without a hearing? It’s like calling the kettle black! Who has a lower trust and confidence score with the public than politicians?

Do our Executive Director and staff feel undermined? I think we’ve heard this “cry wolf” claim before. Not long ago it was rumored our investment staff felt threatened by the reevaluation of their bonus program and that they would leave en masse. It hasn’t happened. It was also rumored that the de-subsidizing of the child care program would cause staff members to leave en masse. It hasn’t happened. I suspect our STRS staff (that day in and day out does an excellent job) realizes that even without some of their prior perks – they work for an excellent employer.

That leaves only the active and retired teachers. Do they feel a lack of trust and confidence in STRS? STRS’s own surveys report member confidence at very high levels. Many actives and retirees I talk to ask, “Things are getting better down there, right?” And I agree with them that they are. And they will continue to get better as long as we have a Board like this one that takes its STRS oversight responsibility seriously.

Do we have a confidence and trust problem at STRS? I believe only in the mind of the messenger – OEA. They see their influence on the STRS board agenda slipping and they don’t like it. So they tell us the sky is falling. Look up, it’s still there.

I will conclude by offering a resolution to OEA much like they offered to our STRS Board last month. Your unwritten motto of “See no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil” of STRS is not productive. Your apparent approach of being the STRS cheerleader at these meetings, offering endless praise of STRS without ever offering one iota of constructive criticism is not productive. Your leadership boasts of “representing” thousands of active teachers statewide. If you truly want to represent active teachers (and not just take their dues money) please support this ENTIRE board in making positive changes to STRS instead of trying so desperately to maintain the status quo.

Thank you for letting me speak to you today.

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Comments from Jim N. Reed for STRS Board

Note: Jim was unable to attend the 1/17/08 STRS Board meeting to deliver his speech; below is the text of the speech he had planned to deliver. KBB
To:........STRS Board
From:....Jim N. Reed
Re:........Concerns and New Year’s Resolutions
Date:.....January 17, 2008
Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. My name is Jim N. Reed and I am a 43-year stakeholder in STRS Ohio. I appear before you today speaking as an independent retiree concerned about my retirement system.
The lines of communication between retirees and the Board seem to be clogged. One of the most active, respected, and moderate STRS-literate stakeholders , Mrs. Molly Janczyk, has been a most effective advocate for retirees. She has attempted to mediate among educator groups and I believe she has earned the right to be heard and listened to by this Board and Executive Director. Recently, she has attempted to get Board members to respond to a simple query about your individual contributions as an elected or appointed member. If you have not responded to her legitimate and timely question, especially in light of the frequent criticism of Dr. Leone’s style of persistent questioning, I urge you to publicly comply with her reasonable request. It is of significant interest to stakeholders and, furthermore, it is simply a matter of professional respect and courtesy.
I have frequently challenged this Board to pay close attention to its legacy. As retirees, we are in uncertain times. Many current and future retirees have been adversely affected by detrimental decisions made by past and current Boards and their Executive Directors. Attempts to escape from one’s heritage are unrealistic and unwise. The tracks remaining from previous Boards and Executive Directors can not be completely covered. However, you have the advantage of hindsight. You have a golden opportunity to take corrective, preemptive, and preventative action to bring about the kind of change that can continue the restoration of respect, honor, integrity, and trust to a once proud STRS Ohio initiated by Dr. Dennis Leone and Mr. John Lazares. This struggling Renaissance has openings for others so enlightened.
On another issue, is there among you one who has not read the Columbus Dispatch multi-month series called “The A-B-C’s of Betrayal?” Has it struck any of you as regrettable that there have been few rebuttals defending our profession by any of our profession’s organizations? Does this suggest some malignancy in the unity of our profession? Is this deafening silence a symptom that our profession’s organizations may have lost focus on what their legitimate “reasons-for-being” actually are as they continue to overindulge in individual and group ego trips and power plays?
In conclusion, I would hope that all of you made some STRS resolutions for the New Year: Resolutions to be more understanding and responsive to the daily concerns of retirees; resolutions to give credit to those Board members who have ferreted out issues and insisted on resolving them; resolutions to be genuinely introspective as to your real purposes and goals as Board members; resolutions to conduct business in a manner that will diminish the negative legacy of the tarnished regime of the Malevolent Seven; and finally, resolutions that require daily observance adherence to ORC 3307.15.
Thank you in advance for a better 2008.
Jim N. Reed

January STRS Board meeting notice

From STRS, January 10, 2008
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:
Thursday, January 17, 2008
. ..8:30 a.m.......Disability Review Panel (Executive Session)
..10:00 a.m.......Retirement Board Meeting
The Retirement Board meeting will come to order at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, January 17. The Board’s agenda will begin with a report from the Investment Department, followed by a report from Member Benefits regarding health care and a report from the Information Technology Services Department. The Executive Director’s Report is scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m., followed by public participation and a report from the Member Benefits Department regarding pension benefits. Before adjournment, the Board will address routine matters and any other issues requiring attention.

CORE meeting scheduled for Thursday, January 17, 2008

CORE (Concerned Ohio Retired Educators) will hold its January meeting at 11:45 a.m. on Thursday, January 17th, 2008 at the STRS Building, 275 East Broad Street, Columbus, OH 43215. Free parking is available in the STRS parking garage behind the building. You are also encouraged to attend the STRS Board meeting, which usually begins around 9:00 a.m. on Thursday in the board room on the 6th floor.
CORE meeting attendees generally leave the Board meeting around 11:30 a.m. to get lunch in the second floor cafeteria. We carry our lunch trays into the small cafeteria room adjacent to the main cafeteria area (behind the Sublett Room), where the CORE meeting begins promptly at 11:45 a.m.
Correction (1/9/08) to the segment following this one; Tim Myers will address the CORE meeting in February, not January. [A candidate for the contributing member seat on the STRS Board (John Lazares' current seat) will speak on why he wants to run for this position. Tim Myers, an OEA candidate, is seeking CORE's support and endorsement.] A CORE business meeting will be held and will adjourn in time for the afternoon session of the STRS Board meeting, the Executive Director's report, and Public Speaks.
Members are encouraged to bring interested friends and to address the STRS Board during the Public Speaks portion of the Board meeting. CORE meetings are open to all interested persons. STRS Board meetings are open to the public.
Map/directions to STRS, 275 E. Broad St. Columbus, OH 43215

A friendly word of out for attack dogs this week.
Heads up . . .
Tim Myers will not be addressing the Thursday, January 17 CORE meeting; he will speak at the February meeting instead. No speaker is currently scheduled for January. (1/9/08)
The January 17 STRS Board meeting will not begin until 10:00 a.m. There is no Board session scheduled for Friday, January 18. (1/9/08)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wondering what your Rx will cost this year with Express Scripts?

Find the answer here, as well as other handy info:

Shirlee Zerkel's response to Sandy Knoesel

From Shirlee Zerkel, January 16, 2008
Subject: Fwd: (no subject)
I am sending this forward to all of you so you can see the trail of my original, Ms. Knoesel's response and now my response to her. I do not believe that STRS/Advance Caremark were in compliance as stated by Ms. Knoesel with the Medicare Law as Paul Boyer complained long and directly to STRS about his lack of a refund for diabetic test strips. To my knowledge, he has never received anything.
The Medicare Handbooks state that "Doctors, and health care suppliers and providers must accept assignment. For example, ....Doctors, other health care suppliers, and providers have to submit your claim to Medicare directly...(this includes claims for glucose test strips.) from Medicare and You 2007. The following is from a 2004 handbook from Medicare entitled: Does your Doctor or supplier accept Medicare Assignment? Page 4: Medicare lets doctors and suppliers know exactly what Medicare sets as the payment amount for each type of service and supply. This payment amount is the Medicare-approved amount......The person with Medicare agrees to let the doctor or supplier request direct payment from Medicare for covered B services, equipment and supplies. Doctors or suppliers who agree to (or must by law) accept assignment from Medicare can't try to collect more than the proper Medicare deductible and coinsurance amounts from the person with Medicare, their other insurance, or anyone else.
The statement used in your email, Ms. Knoesel, was the same excuse used over two years ago to me. Paul Boyer was one who then and even last year had not received a reimbursement check or a credit. Yes, he did complain to STRS long and hard. It was wrong then to ask retirees on very limited incomes to pay a higher co-pay than requested by Medicare B. It also allowed for more mistakes to be made regarding the credit or reimbursement to the retiree. If that change in process can be made now, it could have been make in 2004 or even earlier but you always told me that it could not be.
I see you also stated that Caremark was in charge of the process. Passing the buck, I see. I have one more question. It was stated by your department that the PBM first billed STRS for the supply and then money was recovered when Medicare paid the PBM. Did STRS receive from Advance/Caremark the total amount you paid to cover our Medicare B supplies once Advance/Caremark received it from Medicare?
Just wondering,
Shirlee Zerkel

Turning 62: The retirement boom begins

Boomers' Eagerness to Retire Could Cost Them
They're known as one of the most rebellious generations in U.S. history, not to mention the largest. This year, the oldest of the 79 million baby boomers born from 1946 through 1964 turn 62, which means they become eligible for Social Security. The boomers -- projected to live longer than any previous generation of Americans -- will have the longest retirements, too. Can they afford to retire? How far will their Social Security checks go? The reality is this: Many of those who retire early will accept reduced benefits -- and in doing so will risk falling short of their financial needs.
So what will this generation of retirees do? (Continued.....)

Sandy Knoesel responds to Shirlee Zerkel

From Sandra Knoesel, January 16, 2008
Subject: RE: (no subject)
Dear Mrs. Zerkel:
I am responding to your e-mail regarding the coordination of Medicare Part B prescription claims through the Express Scripts Home Delivery program. I would also like to comment on some of the other statements you made in your e-mail dated January 12, 2008.
Why do you need to complete an Assignment of Benefits (AOB) form?
NationsHealth, as the new entity coordinating an STRS Ohio enrollee’s Medicare Part B benefit, needs to have a completed form that specifically authorizes NationsHealth to submit Medicare Part B claims for payment on your behalf. The form that an enrollee completed under the Caremark program cannot be used.
Why were Medicare Part B eligible enrollees not notified until 2 weeks into the new year? Will qualifying enrollees be subjected to a higher cost for the first 2 weeks and/or until they complete an AOB?
The program was effective January 1, 2008. From the beginning, Express Scripts has forwarded all potential Home Delivery Medicare Part B claims received to NationsHealth for NationsHealth’s determination as to whether they qualify for coverage under the Medicare Part B program. When necessary, NationsHealth will contact you and/or your physician to gather the information required to determine whether the prescription is covered under Medicare Part B. In addition, NationsHealth will start the AOB process for those who have a Medicare Part B claim or for anyone requesting an AOB form. In all cases, the first claim should be processed and shipped without delay. Enrollees will not pay a higher cost for the first two weeks or until they complete the AOB.
Ms. Zerkel, you also made several inaccurate statements that need to be corrected.
The previous program you refer to was established by Caremark in response to STRS Ohio’s request for a mail-order Medicare Part B coordination program. The program complied with federal Medicare regulations as enrollees’ prescriptions eligible for coordination with Medicare Part B have received either a check or credit. For each enrollee who has contacted us with a concern or question about a potential refund or credit, we have investigated the issue and in every case either the enrollee did not realize he or she had received a credit/check; or, the prescription claim did not qualify for Medicare Part B coordination. Enrollees who believe this is not true should contact STRS Ohio and we will investigate their concerns.
Sandy Knoesel
"I'll be honest with you. It will be very difficult to accomplish this [health care legislation] ...a major reform in the time frame we have" (January 2008)
~ Jon Husted, Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives (who is also credited with scheduling the fewest sessions for the 2007 Ohio Legislature in the past decade)
Contact info for Speaker Husted:
Ohio House of Representatives
77 S. High St.
Columbus, OH 43215


Thought for the Day:
Do something! Lead, follow or get out of the way!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

2007 record year for insurance industry.....why are we not surprised?

From John Curry, January 15, 2008
Subject: The next time you hear your insurance company cry "poor mouth" you might want to show 'em this!
I know, it's not STRS certainly affects your wallet! And....what am I doing up at 3:05AM? Well, when you work the night shift you often are up nights...even on your days off! Gotta' work to afford affordable healthcare insurance, don't we? John, January 11, 2008
Another Year of Record Profits for Insurers
Overpricing policies, underpaying claims pays off big
State and national consumer organizations have released a new study concluding that the property/casualty insurance industry continued in 2007 to systematically overcharge consumers and reduce the value of home and automobile insurance policies, leading to profits, reserves, and surplus that are at or near record levels. The study estimates that insurer overcharges over the last four years amount to an average of $870 per household.
The report provides data demonstrating that property/casualty insurance companies are paying out lower claims in relationship to the premiums they charge consumers than at any time in decades.
The pure loss ratio, the actual amount of each premium dollar insurers pay back to policyholders in benefits, was only 54.6 cents in 2007.
Over the past 20 years, the amount paid back as benefits has dramatically declined from over 70 cents per premium dollar, indicating a huge loss in the value of insurance to consumers.
“Consumers ultimately pay the price for the unjustified profits, padded reserves, and excessive capitalization that exist right now in the insurance industry,” said J. Robert Hunter, the Director of Insurance for the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and author of the study. Hunter is an actuary, former state insurance commissioner, and former federal insurance administrator.
“The insurance industry reaped record profits in 2004 and 2005, despite significant hurricane activity,” said Hunter. “Profits in 2006 rose to unprecedented heights and 2007 may set a fourth consecutive profit record,” he said.
“Unfortunately, a major reason why insurers have reported record-high profits and low losses in recent years is that they have been methodically overcharging consumers, cutting back on coverage, underpaying claims, and getting taxpayers to pick up some of the tab for risks the insurers should cover,” said Hunter.
In the last several years, insurers sharply increased premiums for homeowners and commercial insurance and reduced or eliminated coverage for tens of thousands of Americans in coastal areas. Insurers have succeeded in persuading Congress to continue taxpayer subsidies for terrorism losses and are seeking additional subsidies for catastrophe insurance.
Using a number of common measures of financial health, the study finds that balance sheets for property/casualty insurers are in better condition overall than at any time in history.
The study estimates that after-tax returns for 2007 are about $65 billion, just under the record level set in 2006. If insurers release even a small part of their swollen reserves as profits, final profits for 2007 will exceed those of 2006.
Profits for the record years of 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 are estimated to be $253.1 billion. The loss and loss adjustment expense (LAE) ratio for 2007 is estimated to be 66.7 percent, the second lowest in the 28 years studied. Five of the seven lowest loss and LAE ratios in the last 28 years have occurred since 2003.
Consumers have experienced a startling drop in the amount of premium paid in benefits by the insurers, from 72 percent in the late 1980s to only 60 percent today when plotted on a straightline trend over the period.
Note from John: Don't believe J. Robert Hunter info from above? Might want to read this and another article re. Mr. Hunter that follows: (Professional Insurance Agents), February 21, 2007
Florida Hires J. Robert Hunter to Help Set Insurance Rates
Perennial insurance industry critic J. Robert Hunter has been hired by the state of Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation to determine rate reductions that are required to be adopted by all Florida residential property insurers as mandated by recently passed legislation.
Hunter, an actuary who formerly served as the insurance commissioner of Texas, has 45 years of insurance industry experience and presently serves as the insurance director of the Consumer Federation of America. Hunter’s contract comes on the heels of recent legislation signed last month by Gov. Charlie Crist mandating cuts in Florida property/casualty rates. The new state law also expands the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund by $16 billion.
Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty called Hunter’s body of work “legendary” and characterized him as “one of the great minds on issues surrounding the insurance industry.”
“I want to make sure consumers get the full benefit from the reforms,” said Hunter, “while also making sure insurers retain rates which accurately reflect the risk they are bearing. This law is a significant achievement, and I am honored to be asked to help implement the legislation.”
.....and this article:, January 11, 2008
State's insurance effort wins praise
Anika Myers Palm
Sentinel staff writer
A national consumer-advocacy group says property-casualty-insurance companies are systematically overcharging consumers and reducing the value of insurance policies, but it praised some of Florida's efforts to control costs.
The Consumer Federation of America said insurers overcharged customers to the tune of an average $870 per household during the past four years and paid out less to consumers who filed claims.
"A major reason why insurers have reported record-high profits . . . is that they have been methodically overcharging consumers, cutting back on coverage, underpaying claims and getting taxpayers to pick up some of the tab for risks the insurers should cover," J. Robert Hunter, the federation's director of insurance, said in a statement.
The Washington-based federation lauded Florida's officials and insurance regulators for requiring insurance companies to use catastrophe modeling that uses long-term projections rather than short-term ones, and for providing cheaper state-backed reinsurance to insurance companies.
The Insurance Information Institute, a New York-based insurance-industry advocate, said the study was flawed because insurers must remain profitable to maintain their credit ratings and financial strength.
"Insurers are protecting more cars, homes and businesses than any time in U.S. history and have been an essential component of the country's economic growth engine for decades," Robert Hartwig, president and chief economist of the Insurance Information Institute, said in a written response to the consumer group's report.
Anika Myers Palm can be reached at or 407-420-5022.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Battle: Aetna and the AMA; patients caught in the middle
Battling Over Payments Patients Caught In Aetna-AMA Out-Of-Network Fight
Diane Levick
Courant Staff Writer
January 11, 2008
Aetna and the American Medical Association are fighting about payments to doctors again, and patients across the nation are getting caught in between.
The dispute centers on how much Aetna pays out-of-network doctors in some instances and the right of those doctors to bill HMO members for charges the insurer doesn't pay.
Millions of dollars are at stake, and physicians say Aetna is violating a provision of its 2003 nationwide settlement with doctors, which ended massive litigation over claim payment denials and delays. Aetna says it's trying to protect members from high charges.
The issue is who pays what when Aetna HMO members end up getting care from physicians who aren't part of the insurer's network because there was no opportunity to choose an in-network doctor.
That often happens in emergencies and with hospital-based surgery or other care where patients aren't in a position to pick in-network anesthesiologists or other doctors to take care of them.
In those instances, Aetna HMOs, as of June 1, 2007, are reimbursing out-of-network providers 125 percent of what Medicare would have paid for the same services. A different formula is required in New Jersey.
The 125 percent of Medicare, however, is less than what many doctors charge, and they often bill patients for the balance that insurance doesn't pay.
Aetna, however, is telling HMO members who involuntarily got out-of-network care that they're not liable for the balance billed by the physicians. Aetna sends an "explanation of benefits" showing what it paid the doctor, and a letter telling members that if the doctor bills them for the balance, to send the bill to Aetna.
Aetna says it will try to resolve the situation itself with the out-of-network physician, and may end up making additional payments to some doctors. It isn't clear how much money consumers will still be on the hook for.
"Our goal is to keep patients out of this," said Aetna spokeswoman Susan G. Millerick.
But some patients are in the thick of it, confused and refusing to pay the doctors.
"There has been a lot of bad blood between patients and physicians" because of Aetna's actions, said Dr. Alan Schorr, an endocrinologist in Langhorne, Pa. "It has put us in an adversarial position."
Schorr, who believes he's owed nearly $10,000 from the balance-billing fallout, doesn't contract with HMOs or PPOs, and is the only endocrinologist at the local hospital.
The American Medical Association (AMA) is denouncing Aetna's policy, which doesn't apply to PPO, or preferred provider, health plans.
"This policy fails to recognize each physician has different practice costs as reflected by their billed charges," AMA Chief Executive Dr. Michael D. Maves said in a recent letter to Aetna Chief Medical Officer Dr. Troyen A. Brennan. "It is simply arbitrary and capricious for Aetna to deem 125 percent of Medicare to be a fair payment across the board."
The two men are scheduled to meet to discuss the issues in early February.
The AMA believes Aetna is breaching the 2003 settlement by failing to state on explanation-of-benefits forms to HMO members that out-of-network doctors have a right to balance-bill them.
"We think that's a fairly clear violation of the settlement," said Cameron Staples, compliance dispute facilitator for the Aetna settlement. He says he's gotten eight or nine complaints from doctors — none from Connecticut — stemming from the balance-billing issue.
"Patients are getting caught in the middle," added Staples, a lawyer and also a Connecticut state representative.
Aetna says that in instances where HMO members had no choice in getting out-of-network doctors, the company is treating the care as if it were in-network. That's because in-network doctors aren't allowed to balance-bill HMO members.
Staples, who has been talking and meeting with Aetna about settlement-related issues, said, "Aetna has been very cooperative in attempting to work out disputes … and I'm hopeful we'll work these out, too."
Aetna says its policy of paying 125 percent of Medicare's rates for out-of-network care that HMO members didn't choose isn't new. But before June 1, it wasn't enforced consistently and Aetna would often pay doctors more if they refused to accept the initial payment and billed the company again.
Aetna sent letters about the crackdown on enforcement of its policy to 433 health care providers in 29 states, including Connecticut — those who filed more than 10 out-of-network claims during the first quarter of 2007.
Before June 2007, Aetna says, it received an average of about 18,000 balance bills a month nationwide from doctors and members. Since then, the average has been 7,600 a month.
Some doctors charge three or four times what Medicare would pay, Aetna says.
"It's our obligation," Millerick said, "to develop mechanisms to protect members and employers from these kinds of billing practices when members do not have a meaningful opportunity to select a participating [in-network] provider."
Aetna has about 4.9 million HMO members nationally and 54,000 in Connecticut.
Matthew C. Katz, executive director of the Connecticut State Medical Society, said Thursday the society agrees with the AMA's concerns. "Physicians have made an informed decision to be out-of-network," he said. "We believe that by their actions, Aetna is essentially trying to force them to accept in-network or lower rates."
New Jersey insurance regulators fined Aetna $9.5 million in July over similar issues of not properly paying for some out-of-network services. Aetna hasn't paid the fine yet because it's appealing the order and seeking a hearing, Millerick said.

Fallacies on divestment

Policy won’t sway companies or help oppressed
"Divest and the terrorists win." says LA career firefighter and trustee...
Click here to view article by Cody Ferguson
Posted: January 7, 2008

Ohio's public employee pensions in good shape, study says

From RH Jones, January 14, 2008
Subject: Ohio's public employee pensions in good shape, study says
To all:
With the Dec. 19 article below, it seems to me that there would be NO reason that the OSBA or the OASBO should be against HB 315 (The employer/employee increase for retired teacher health care.) Should the bill now (Jan.14) advance out of the FIRES Committee?
RHJones, Retired STRS Member
Ohio's public employee pensions in good shape, study says
Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 19, 2007
Stephen Koff
Plain Dealer Bureau Chief
Washington- Unlike some counterparts in private industry, Ohio's teachers, highway patrol officers and other public employees need not worry about their pensions being solvent, according to a new study.
"Ohio has done a very good job keeping up with required contributions for its public employee pension system," said the 50-state study released Tuesday by the Pew Center on the States.
The total coming due for Ohio public pensions over the next 30 years is $139 billion, according to Pew, part of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts, which studies issues ranging from the environment to good government. Of that, Ohio has 81 percent set aside, and pension investments were assumed by the state to be earning an 8 percent return in 2006, the year studied.
Most experts consider a pension fund healthy if it has at least 80 percent of funds set aside that it will need. Twenty states, including Kentucky, Indiana and Oklahoma, have less than 80 percent set aside.
Ohio may have to make adjustments to meet future health-care costs for state retirees. Over the next 30 years, the state will have an estimated $32 billion in retiree health care and related costs. The pension fund only has 35 percent of that $32 million set aside, but Ohio is in better shape than most. The vast majority of states have put aside an average of 3 percent of future health costs, the Pew study found.
Ohio lawmakers are considering options ranging from higher employee contributions to setting a higher age at which some teachers could collect retirement benefits.
"None of the pensions are in any trouble," said Aristotle Hutras, director of the Ohio Retirement Study Council, an independent oversight body. "Now they are working very hard to continue that very important retiree health-care benefit."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Petitions for Dan Vincent

From Molly Janczyk, January 13, 2008
Subject: Urgent: 2008 Elections: Petitions for active candidate: Dan Vincent

Dear All,

If you have petitions out for Dan Vincent, please send them back ASAP so we know where we need to work. We need 500 signatures to include 10 counties with at least 20 names from each county. More is better to up the number of signatures.

You can ask for petitions for Dan from Laura Ecklar:

She will send them directly to you.
All petitions must be originals and it takes 2 petitions to get 20 signatures.
Each petition holds only 12 names.

Please let us know your status on obtaining signatures and what county you are working.

Thank you,
Molly J.

Mary Ann Cervantes: Response to Molly

From Molly Janczyk, January 13, 2008
Subject: Cervantes Response: Request Again: Ques. for STRS Board Members: 1/10/08
Mary Ann,
Thank you for your response. I greatly appreciate your time and effort. Please do not take it personally that I feel it did not respond to my request asking for some commonality regarding this issue.
The below letter offered no new ground to appease membership for whom you hold this position. You simply feel the Exec. Direc. should make the decision which confuses me since all of us know the Exec. Direc. has acted on his own in some of these issues. We have no knowledge of what the next Exec. Direc. feels on this topic based on his former experience base.
I was hoping for real consideration and suggestions for a collaborative effort on this issue which would satisfy membership as you work under the guidelines of ORC solely on their behalf and in their best interests with prudence.
I asked that these points be addressed and or used as some groundwork of a beginning of dialogue on this issue based on membership input.
1. The Exec. Direc. may decide if an STRS Assoc. needs outside legal counsel BASED on the advice of the STRS Legal Team and the AG as well as STRS policy and job description. ***TO BE DETERMINED LIMITS APPLY.
Agree or disagree and why_____
2. No STRS Assoc. may obtain outside counsel without approval as stated above and then submit counsel bills to STRS.
Agree or disagree and why_____
3. If a case is complex or in dispute, it may be submitted to the STRS Board for discussion and resolution.
Agree or disagree and why_____
4. There needs to be a policy such as above written into STRS policy so as to correct past behavior of submitting legal bills without previous approval AND to control costs. Limits needed for legal counsel.
Agree or disagree and why_____
5. Policy needs to be written as we cannot rely on an individual's subjective discretion as previously suggested: "The Exec. Direc. now knows what we want and will not do this again so we need no policy." (Seems poor business practive).
Agree or disagree and why_____
Mary Ann, I am opening this up for discussion as you did not state confidential and since this is a public issue for public debate. We all wish to move ahead and resolve this issue.
STRS BOARD MEMBERS: Please tell me your thoughts and please explain with specifics why it is good policy in sound business practice. I believe sound business practice plans for events as thoroughly as possible. Yes, rare events may ensue and possible need for outside counsel be in order but standards must be in place to control costs and circumstance within certain parameters.
Please display a willingness to discuss and find common points on which to agree so as to move forward towards resolution not just for staff and Board members but for your membership: Your number 1 priority!
I have no wish to argue but just to find a working start for a policy for all because other than that, it is not responsive to membership.
Thank you, Molly J.
From Mary Ann Cervantes, January 13, 2008
Subject: Re: Request Again: Ques. for STRS Board Members: 1/10/08
Thank you for your letter. I have examined this issue from both sides of the argument. Hasty action without proper study during the retreat this month would be irresponsible and any important issue is worth its due study. Long ago, former board members considered these practices important enough to include in the STRS Board Policies. Also, as STRS is in the process of hiring a new executive director, the board needs to be careful and thorough about the definition of that role as we are scrutinized by talented candidates.
I assure you that there was no pressure put on me to vote as I did other than an act of conscience. However questions regarding this issue were posed to anyone with information in accordance with my responsibility to prepare for the session. No doubt, each board member needs to find out as much information as possible in advance to help with the process and discernment.
Of course, this issue relates back to the partial payment of legal fees for a few STRS employees. Throughout my 30+ years in education I watched a number of individuals perform ethically and correctly, and yet found themselves in litigation. We all know that even the most innocent people can find themselves in a lot of trouble due to the half-truths, private agendas, and underhandedness of others. Although we cannot cover every contingency, nor should we, it only makes sense that an executive person makes the decisions about whether or not an employee is entitled to legal representation or whether it would be appropriate to pay for legal expenses. Certainly the attention to this issue is germane to any future case where STRS could be the focus of legal action by an employee.
In the case of the STRS employees who received partial payment for legal fees, the employees were cooperating with an investigation by the Ohio Ethics Commission, but were also led to believe that they could be subject to legal action. Also, the legal counsel for STRS informed them of his limitations to represent them and the office of the Ohio Attorney General never offered services. In response to those circumstances one would be a fool to wait around and see what developed before hiring his or her own lawyer.
As I expect STRS employees to be ethical and fair so too I expect STRS to be a fair and just employer. Certainly STRS’s recent court case has cost the members of this pension fund millions of dollars due to unfair labor practices and I am definitely not proud of that stigma. There is no question that we must be accountable and prudent about all spending. However, we are a pension of teachers, people of integrity, and I would like to think that we operate fairly with our employees in the same manner that we expect to be treated by our administrators. I will approach the issue of legal fees with an open mind to serve the members of this pension with my best efforts. As Always Molly, thank you for your question, your frankness, and for your willingness to read my opinion. I look forward to seeing you at the meeting.
Mary Ann
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
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