Saturday, June 28, 2008

HC insurers and pillmakers, take a sigh of relief; at least used car salesmen and PBMs weren't on this poll!

From John Curry, June 28, 2008

Retirees....five years ago, when I started distributing articles like this, I actually had reply emails that were defending these folks! It looks like the public finally has taken off the rose-colored glasses and is now cognizant of the many hundreds of "out-of-court" and a few in-court settlements against some of the "good" folks listed in the table below (and the PBMs), doesn't it? Is the American public finally waking up and smelling the bacon? I think so! Sure, there are a lot of good companies out there...but there are also too many of the other persuasion! That's why they make Congressional inquiries, ombudsmen, consumer advocates, attorney generals, grand juries and trial lawyers.....yes, trial lawyers! Could it be that too many peoples' oxen have been gored? We'll find out in November, won't we? John
By Ed Silverman
The latest Harris Interactive poll that examines American attitudes toward corporate America offers a sobering view of and for the pharmaceutical industry. Only 26 percent of Americans view the industry favorably which, of course, means that 74 percent have a negative or neutral impression. And 52 percent are firmly negative, which places pharma slightly below big oil, and above tobacco.
Bob Ehrlich of DTC Perspectives notes the warning signs: “The drug industry must decide what improving their reputation is worth. They could accept the second lowest ranking or decide how to make it better. Clearly their current approach has fallen short and anyone charged with making it better has largely failed, unless the goal was a controlled decline. I know all the good things the drug companies do, and why prices are higher, but you need not convince me.
“It is the 74 percent of Americans who do not like you that need the convincing. Will it happen? Maybe it will if a bunch of new wonder drugs get discovered or if prices are drastically reduced. Otherwise,” he writes, “do not look for the second-to-last reputation spot to be vacated soon. It is a challenge that must be dealt with by the ceo’s or they risk significant legislative and public backlash.” [Click image to enlarge]
Of course, this is not new. Unfortunately, the industry has been slow to respond these past few years and only recently has shown signs that the message has been received. Bob makes an important, however, which is that the ceo’s must deal with this. Ironically, most ceo’s are increasingly remote and, when they do appear, rarely deviate from a carefully controlled script. So here’s a hint to the ceo’s - tell the lawyers to relax and go engage your customers in a series of candid discussions.

No one gets better Medicare benefits unless our pals in the insurance industry get a cut off the top - Opinion from Suddenly Senior

Your Weekly Medicare Consumer Advocacy Update
Frank Kaiser, Suddenly Senior
June 27, 2008
The Medicare bill defeated in the Senate last night would have improved coverage for mental health and preventive services and helped pay medical and drug costs for more people with Medicare living on fixed incomes. The Bush administration objected to these improvements, which were paid for with a modest cut to some of the excessive subsidies Medicare pays to insurance companies. Administration officials opposed this reduction in subsidies, they claim, because it would result in reduced benefits for people with Medicare enrolled in private health plans offered by these companies.
Translation: No one gets better Medicare benefits unless our pals in the insurance industry get a cut off the top.
It's as if the Medicare program had been taken over by Mafia goons.
Numerous independent, nonpartisan studies have shown it cost taxpayers substantially more--about $1,000 a head, according to one study--to provide coverage through a Medicare private health plan instead of through Original Medicare.
Just this week, the Government Accountability Office reported that, in 2005, insurance companies pocketed as profit $1.14 billion in subsidies that the companies had told Medicare would go toward medical benefits.
Last night, 39 Republican senators joined President Bush in opposing HR. 6331, the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act. As a result, the benefit improvements in HR. 6331 will not take effect, and on July 1, doctors will get a 10 percent payment cut, a disaster for both patients and doctors that the bill would have averted. None of the senators' excuses for this vote hold water:
• The bill was a partisan exercise. Not so. The bill passed 355 to 59, a veto-proof majority, in the House of Representatives. More Republicans voted for HR. 6331 than against it.
• President Bush would have vetoed it anyway. So what? If enough Republican senators put the interests of people with Medicare ahead of their loyalty to President Bush, there would have been enough votes to override a veto in the Senate.
Next week, these senators will be back home attending fundraisers and marching in Independence Day parades. We need to tell them to show a little more independence from President Bush and a little more backbone to the insurance company lobbyists. Medicare belongs to the American people. It is not a racket for the insurance industry.
Medical Record
Senate vote to invoke Cloture on the Motion to Proceed on HR. 6331 fell short of the 60 votes needed. Yea votes indicate support for passage of HR. 6331. No votes indicate opposition. Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, voted No to preserve the right to bring the bill up for a vote again (Roll Call vote on HR. 6331, June 2008).
"On average, [Medicare Advantage] organizations' self-reported actual profit margin was 5.1 percent of total revenue, which is approximately $1.14 billion more in profits in 2005 than [Medicare Advantage] organizations projected" ("Medicare Advantage Organizations: Actual Expenses and Profits Compared to Projections for 2005," Government Accountability Office, June 2008).
"I am an elder advocate with an Area Agency on Aging. Even though several Medicare Advantage plans, including four PFFS plans, are listed as plans accepted in our county, that is actually not the case. Once a beneficiary enrolls in one of these Advantage plans, they find out that providers in this county actually do not accept the plans. If the beneficiary cannot see a provider in this county, they are forced to leave the county to find providers. Some have to drive 50, 100 and 200 miles to see a provider, or get their prescriptions, because there are no providers in our county who will accept their plan. Many of these elderly people can't drive because they have poor eyesight, dementia, etc. These elderly beneficiaries come to our Area Agency on Aging to get out of these Medicare Advantage plans because the local hospital and their doctors will not accept the plans" (Story submitted to the Private Health Plan Monitoring Project from Spencer, Iowa, Medicare Rights Center, April 2007).
From John Curry editorial: Americans have a health system that is morally unacceptable

Afflicting the afflicted

The best health care system in the world? Not when illness looms as a path to financial ruin, Jun 26, 2008
This year, an estimated 1.4 million Ohioans have no health insurance. Thousands more who have some health coverage are underinsured, spending at least 10 percent of their household income on out-of-pocket payments for medical expenses.
Behind the statistics of the health-care crisis facing an increasing number of Ohio families are people like Ruth and Kevin Koelliker, the Brunswick couple whose experiences were described Tuesday by Tracy Wheeler, a Beacon Journal medical writer.
The Koellikers stand in for the underinsured and uninsured citizens not only in Ohio but across the country, the majority of whom are working people confronting a health insurance system that puts enormous pressure on their finances.
They are up against a mix of factors involving the status of their health, their employment circumstances and a crazy quilt of laws and regulations that are proving increasingly ineffective. The Koellikers' experience points to a critical erosion in the basic concept of health insurance — the understanding that people buy insurance to protect against catastrophic illness, and that insurance companies manage the inevitable risks by offering affordable rates to a large and varied pool of customers to spread widely and responsibly the cost of covering the sickest.
As in the Koellikers' case, many consumers discover to their dismay that a serious illness (a heart attack or a cancer diagnosis) or a chronic health condition (lupus or diabetes) shuts the door on affordable policies. With average premium rates rising at twice the rate of average incomes, the cost of coverage in the private market can quickly outstrip the means of a middle-income consumer with a chronic or ''pre-existing condition.'' They often must settle for coverage that excludes the health problem.
In a system where health coverage is often job-related, employment status also is inordinately important in whether coverage remains affordable.
Employers' negotiated contracts and contributions reduce the cost for workers. By the same token, a change or loss of employment or an employer's decision to drop coverage leaves workers with hard options: go without insurance or pay outrageously high rates (a policy for 40- to 49-year-olds of $20,525 for an individual and $55,492 for a family for a year?).
Of equal concern are laws and regulations that offer false hope. For example, a mandate on insurers guarantees potential consumers an open-enrollment period, but it does nothing to ensure that the rates offered (such as the $55,000 policy) will be affordable. In a weakening economy where workers are spending a longer time between jobs, it is also unduly harsh to allow a coverage gap of a mere 62 days, after which insurers can deny insurance.
Against such a stacked deck, Kevin Koelliker aptly observed, ''The average guy doesn't stand a chance.'' Unfortunately, the assessment is accurate. Americans have a health system that is morally unacceptable. Illness should not be a path to financial ruin.

From John Curry

SENIORS LOSE 51% OF THEIR BUYING POWER SINCE 2000 - News from Suddenly Senior

June 26, 2008


Alexandria, VA (June 9, 2008) Seniors have lost 51% of their buying power since 2000, according to a new study by The Senior Citizens League (TSCL), one of the nation's largest nonpartisan seniors groups. While the annual Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) increased the average Social Security benefits by 24%, typical seniors expenses rose almost four times as fast, the study found.
"This study clearly illustrates the dilemma facing seniors living on fixed incomes," says Daniel O'Connell, Chairman of TSCL. The average monthly benefit in 2000 was $816. The annual COLA increased average monthly benefits to $1,013.50 by 2008. The study found, however, that a senior with average benefits in 2000 would require a benefit of $1,531.60 per month in 2008 just to keep up with rising costs.
"Everybody is feeling pain at the gas pump," observes O'Connell. "Seniors with an average Social Security check in 2000 could have purchased 647 gallons of gas with their monthly check. In 2008, their Social Security check would only purchase 284 gallons," O'Connell says. "If gas prices won't get you, the price of eggs will," O'Connell continues. "An average Social Security check in 2000 could buy 877 dozen eggs. Today it buys 460 dozen," he points out. "Medicare Part B premiums which are automatically deducted from most seniors' Social Security benefits have more than doubled since 2000," O'Connell adds.
"These price increases hit seniors on fixed incomes the hardest," O'Connell says. "Low-income seniors who depend on Social Security for the majority of their income are affected the worst."
To help increase the buying power of Social Security benefits and to offset the cost of rising Medicare Part B premiums, TSCL is lobbying for a change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) used to determine the COLA. The government currently calculates the COLA based on the CPI for Urban Wage Earners (CPI-W). The CPI-W is a more slowly rising index because it tracks the spending habit of younger workers who don't spend as much of their incomes on health care as most seniors do.
The government does track the spending patterns of older Americans, and has done so since 1983, with the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E). TSCL estimates that a senior who retired with average benefits in 2007 would receive about $18,277 more in benefits over a 25-year retirement if the government were to use the CPI-E to calculate the COLA. "The difference between COLAs would be modest at first," explains O'Connell, "but the difference compounds over time like interest. By the end of a 25-year retirement the person who had average benefits in 2008 would have a monthly benefit that's $150 per month higher using the CPI-E, " O'Connell says.
"We urge seniors to contact your Representative and ask him or her to support "The Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers Act" (H.R. 1953), introduced by Representative Charles Gonzalez (TX)," O'Connell states. The legislation would provide Social Security beneficiaries with a more fair and adequate COLA by tying the annual increase to the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E).
From John Curry

That's 1.14 Billion that could have gone for patient expenses but didn't!!!!?

From John Curry, June 26, 2008
Medicare Medicare Advantage Plans in 2005 Made $1.14B More in Profits Than They Projected, GAO Report Finds Private insurers participating in the Medicare Advantage program in 2005 spent less on medical services for beneficiaries and recorded larger profits than projected, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 6/26).
For the report, GAO officials examined the 2005 data from 120 forms submitted in 2007 that chronicle the previous two years, which plans are required to submit for each contract. The 120 forms reviewed by GAO represented 78% of MA plan enrollment, CongressDaily reports. According to the report, the plans on average projected spending 90.2% of total revenue on medical services but actually spent 85.7%. The disparity resulted in an extra $1.14 billion in profits. Under the rules of the program, insurers recording more profits than expected are required to spend the additional funds on extra health services for beneficiaries.
House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair Pete Stark (D-Calif.), who requested the report, said, "Private plans in Medicare spend even less on medical care than they report to CMS -- to the tune of over a billion dollars in one year alone." He added, "These funds go directly into the pockets of big insurance companies, not toward medical care for beneficiaries."
CMS officials said the findings do not accurately reflect benefits spending versus profits after 2005, when the accuracy of spending projections improved under a competitive-bidding process launched in 2006 (Edney, CongressDaily, 6/25). CMS officials added that the health status of projected versus enrolled beneficiaries could have been responsible for the discrepancy (Dixon, Reuters, 6/25). However, the GAO report stated, "It would be incorrect to suggest that there is no relationship between the payment system in 2005 and the bidding process that began in 2006."
According to CongressDaily, the GAO report comes as the Senate is preparing to consider a House-passed bill (HR 6331) that would offset the cost of a delay in reducing Medicare physician fees by limiting payments to MA plans (CongressDaily, 6/25).

Want to read the actual government report? Here is the link:

Friday, June 27, 2008

This one even beats the $4 generic Wally World special!

Posted on Thu, Jun. 19, 2008,
Blue Cross offers no-co-pay plans for generic drugs
By Stacey Burling
Inquirer Staff Writer
To encourage the biggest users of medical care to take cheaper medicines and stay on them, Independence Blue Cross will waive co-pays for 75 generic drugs used to treat chronic conditions, the insurer said yesterday. The program, called Rx for Better Health, will be in effect from July 1 through Dec. 31 for IBC and AmeriHealth of Pennsylvania subscribers. It will not apply to people who have Medicare Part D, Medicare discount cards, and members of the Federal Employees Health Benefits program and AmeriHealth of New Jersey or Delaware.
The new initiative is a follow-up to last year's broader No Pay Copay program, which waived $50 million worth of co-pays for all generics. The company credits that program, which stopped at the end of 2007, with increasing generic use from 47 percent to 62 percent of prescriptions filled.
IBC began offering employers plans with zero co-pays this year. Rx for Better Health likely will waive about $12 million in co-pays.
Paul Urick, senior vice president of FutureScripts L.L.C., a for-profit IBC affiliate that is administering the new program, said he believed the new effort would drive even more customers to try generics and save everyone money.
In typical plans, subscribers pay higher co-pays for brand-name drugs - $20 to $35 - than for generics - $10.
Together, IBC and subscribers pay $25 to $40 for a month's supply of a generic medicine. Brand-name drugs average $150 to $170, Urick said. With that kind of price differential, the insurer and its customers - employers who provide insurance - can save money even if the generic co-pay is dropped.
Getting people with chronic illnesses to stay on their medications is a continuing problem. While cost is only one reason that patients stop, anything that helps keep them taking their medicines is likely to also help reduce more serious medical problems and worker absenteeism, Urick said.
The new program applies to more than 200,000 subscribers with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, depression, acid reflux, heart failure and heart disease.
Simvastatin and sertraline are among the generics for which co-pays would be waived. View an explanation of the drug program and the full list of generics at

From John Curry

Duane Tron re: .... I'll bet you aren't a "friend of Angelo!" This one cuts across party lines....and it cuts!?

Duane Tron to John Curry, June 25, 2008
Subject: Re: I'll bet you aren't a "friend of Angelo!" This one cuts across party lines....and it cuts!
Wow! I need a loan to pay for this work that Everdry is going to start on tomorrow morning in our lower level. Have you ever heard the old saying, "when it rains it pours?" That has been so very and literally true at our house for quite some time. When it rains it runs into our family room and has ruined our carpet and caused other damage.
And then our friends at STRS announce they're going to increase our health insurance premiums another $1,600.00/year this coming January. I haven't even told my wife because she's been so down over the present rates we're paying, the gas price increases and how they're affecting us due to her daily commute to Cincinnati, and our straining budget. As soon as she finds out, she's going to tell me to drop her health insurance because she keeps saying, "we can't afford to insure her."
Darn, that has to make the HC policy makers at STRS proud! Oh! I'm so sorry! They are proud because they don't really give a rats you know what now do they? The people that work there all have a Cadillac health insurance program and are living well! I hope that when all of these people retire, someone screws the hell out them and destroys their retirement so they have to go back to work like all of us have been doing. What goes around comes around.
We've been married for 43 years and the worst arguments we have had during the 43 years have been over the STRS health insurance premiums, as she wants me to cancel her insurance and I refuse. I wonder if I can become friends with Angelo? Maybe he can get me some really low rates.
This again points out why I keep pushing for the creation of a new third party in this country and kick the Dems and Republicans out of Columbus and DC. I sound like a broken record, but we aren't going to be able to really fix anything in this country until we create a new and moderate third party, that will work for the people and future of this nation. The people we've been sending to Washington are the biggest problem; they are our problem and they just don't get it! Oh! They get our money, but they don't get it when it comes to why they are in D.C. and what they are supposed to be doing while serving, "THE PEOPLE" and not themselves.
Mr. T
Conde Nast
Countrywide's Many 'Friends'
by Daniel Golden, Jun 12, 2008
Senators Dodd and Conrad are among the government officials who scored V.I.P. loans from C.E.O. Angelo Mozilo.
An exclusive Portfolio investigation.
Industry: Real Estate
Summary: A holding company which through its subsidiaries, is engaged in mortgage lending and other real estate finance-related businesses, …
Primary executive: Angelo R. Mozilo,

Angelo R. Mozilo
Industry: Real Estate
Biography: Mr. Mozilo is the Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the Company. Mr. Mozilo is a co-founder of the Company …
Two U.S. senators, two former Cabinet members, and a former ambassador to the United Nations received loans from Countrywide Financial through a little-known program that waived points, lender fees, and company borrowing rules for prominent people.
Senators Christopher Dodd, Democrat from Connecticut and chairman of the Banking Committee, and Kent Conrad, Democrat from North Dakota, chairman of the Budget Committee and a member of the Finance Committee, refinanced properties through Countrywide’s “V.I.P.” program in 2003 and 2004, according to company documents and emails and a former employee familiar with the loans.
Other participants in the V.I.P. program included former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, and former U.N. ambassador and assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke. Jackson was deputy H.U.D. secretary in the Bush administration when he received the loans in 2003. Shalala, who received two loans in 2002, had by then left the Clinton administration for her current position as president of the University of Miami. She is scheduled to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom on June 19.
Holbrooke, whose stint as U.N. ambassador ended in 2001, was also working in the private sector when he and his family received V.I.P. loans. He was an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
James Johnson, who had been advising presidential candidate Barack Obama on the selection of a running mate, resigned from the Obama campaign Wednesday after the Wall Street Journal reported that he received Countrywide loans at below-market rates.
Most of the officials belonged to a group of V.I.P. loan recipients known in company documents and emails as “F.O.A.'s”—Friends of Angelo, a reference to Countrywide chief executive Angelo Mozilo. While the V.I.P. program also serviced friends and contacts of other Countrywide executives, the F.O.A.’s made up the biggest subset.
According to company documents and emails, the V.I.P.'s received better deals than those available to ordinary borrowers. Home-loan customers can reduce their interest rates by paying “points”—one point equals 1 percent of the loan’s value. For V.I.P.'s, Countrywide often waived at least half a point and eliminated fees amounting to hundreds of dollars for underwriting, processing and document preparation. If interest rates fell while a V.I.P. loan was pending, Countrywide provided a free “float-down” to the lower rate, eschewing its usual charge of half a point. Some V.I.P.'s who bought or refinanced investment properties were often given the lower interest rate associated with primary residences.
Unless they asked, V.I.P. borrowers weren’t told exactly how many points were waived on their loans, the former employee says. However, they were typically assured that they were receiving the “Friends of Angelo” discount, and that Mozilo had personally priced their loans.
The V.I.P. loans to public officials in a position to advance Countrywide’s interests raise legal and ethical questions. Countrywide’s ethics code bars directors, officers and employees from “improperly influencing the decisions of government employees or contractors by offering or promising to give money, gifts, loans, rewards, favors, or anything else of value.” Federal employees are prohibited from receiving gifts offered because of their official position, including loans on terms not generally available to the public. Senate rules prohibit members from knowingly receiving gifts worth $100 or more in a calendar year from private entities that, like Countrywide, employ a registered lobbyist.
Senator Dodd received two loans in 2003 through Countrywide’s V.I.P. program. He borrowed $506,000 to refinance his Washington townhouse, and $275,042 to refinance a home in East Haddam, Connecticut. Countrywide waived three-eighths of a point, or about $2,000, on the first loan, and one-fourth of a point, about $700, on the second, according to internal documents. Both loans were for 30 years, with the first five years at a fixed rate.
The interest rate on the loans, originally pegged at 4.875%, was reduced to 4.25% on the Washington home and 4.5% on the Connecticut property by the time the loans were funded. The lower rates save the senator about $58,000 on his Washington residence over the life of the loan, and $17,000 on the Connecticut home. The former employee says the float-downs were free. Senator Dodd’s wife, Jackie Clegg, said in a brief interview that two other lenders they checked with offered comparable interest rates. The senator’s office said Thursday afternoon that it is preparing a response.
Countrywide has also contributed a total of $21,000 to Dodd’s campaigns since 1997. While a presidential candidate last year, he filed a bill to ban lenders from charging prepayment penalties and steering home buyers to more costly loans—both practices in which Countrywide reportedly engaged. He also called for criminal charges for such predatory lending.
Senator Conrad borrowed $1.07 million in 2004 to refinance his vacation home with a balcony and large porch in Bethany Beach, Delaware, a block from the ocean. Mozilo instructed a subordinate to “take off 1 point,” or $10,700, according to a March 17, 2004, email.
Later that year, Conrad refinanced an eight-unit apartment building that he and his brothers owned in Bismarck, North Dakota. According to the former employee, the loan violated Countrywide’s normal policy of providing loans for buildings of four units or fewer. In an April 23, 2004, email, Mozilo encouraged an employee to “make an exception due to the fact that the borrower is a senator.”
Senator Conrad acknowledged in a statement that he received financing from Countrywide. “I never met Angelo Mozilo,” he said. “I have no way of knowing how they categorized my loan. I never asked for, expected or was aware of any special treatment…From what we have been able to determine, it appears that we were given a competitive rate.”
A spokeswoman for Countrywide, which is slated to be acquired by Bank of America, declined to comment. A Bank of America spokesman said that senior executives there “do not get involved in the origination of mortgages,” but will refer inquiring friends to the right loan programs.
Mozilo co-founded Countrywide in 1969 and helped build it into the nation’s largest home mortgage lender. While interest rates were dropping in the first half of this decade, prompting widespread demand for refinances and home-equity loans, Countrywide loaned hundreds of millions of dollars per year through its V.I.P. program to politicians, government officials, business executives, entertainment celebrities and other customers singled out for special treatment. Account executives at Countrywide’s call center in Rosemead, California, handled the bulk of the loan applications, which were processed by a separate V.I.P. underwriting unit that had its own branch number in Countrywide’s record-keeping system.
Jackson, the former H.U.D. secretary, borrowed $346,331 from Countrywide in June 2003 to refinance his Alexandria, Virginia, townhouse. That December, he applied for a $308,000 mortgage to buy a vacation home on a golf course in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The loan came through on January 21, 2004, a week before President Bush named him to the H.U.D. post. He resigned in March 2008 amid unrelated cronyism allegations.
H.U.D. has wide-ranging relationships with Countrywide and other lenders. It regulates real estate settlements and closing costs, and runs the Federal Housing Administration, which guarantees mortgages.
The former employee says that Jackson received discounts on both loans. Defending his transactions, Jackson said he was a Countrywide borrower long before he met Mozilo or worked for H.U.D. Asked if he received any breaks on the loans, he said, “Not to my knowledge. If I did, it certainly wasn’t discussed with me.”
Former H.H.S. secretary Donna Shalala received two V.I.P. loans, for $338,685 and $202,300, in 2002. “Normally, I would not ask for special consideration toward a certain loan/customer, but the complexity of the Shalala deal calls for it,” one Countrywide executive wrote in an August 20, 2002, email, explaining that the University of Miami president was buying an interest in a timeshare. “Angelo asked me to ensure that we ‘knock her socks off’ with our great service.” On September 21, another Countrywide staffer wrote that Shalala’s loans were “ready to close…I floated both of them down to current pricing.” Shalala did not respond to messages, and an assistant at the University of Miami said that she was traveling.
Holbrooke’s wife, author Kati Marton, received loans totalling $1.4 million to refinance two properties in 2002. “Look for these,” one Countrywide manager wrote in a September 27, 2002, email, alluding to Marton’s loan applications. “These loans are incredibly important to Angelo and as such they are incredibly important to us.”
The next year, Holbrooke borrowed $1.2 million to refinance a vacation home in Telluride, Colorado. Countrywide waived at least 1.25 points, or $15,000. “Per Angelo, this loan is to be at zero points,” a Countrywide manager wrote in a February 20, 2003, email. Also in 2003, Holbrooke’s son, David, and daughter-in-law Sarah received a half-point discount on a $559,500 loan, or about $2,800, when they refinanced their Brooklyn high-rise co-op, and five-eighths of a point discount on a $428,000 loan, or about $2,600, when they bought the floor above it. Neither Holbrooke nor his wife and son returned messages.
Holbrooke and Johnson are both vice chairmen of the private banking firm Perseus. Besides the discounted interest rates reported by the Journal, Countrywide also waived points for Johnson, a former chief executive of government-sponsored mortgage reseller Fannie Mae. In 2003, Countrywide took 1.375 points, about $13,000, off a nearly $1 million loan to refinance Johnson’s Washington home. When he borrowed almost $1.3 million in 2003 that same year to refinance a 4,400-square-foot, Southwestern-style home with four bedrooms and five baths beside the second green of a golf course in Palm Desert, California, Countrywide waived 1.875 points, or about $24,000.
In 2004, Johnson borrowed $3 million to upgrade to a larger estate—a 5,875-square-foot house, with a guesthouse and pool—on the same course. Although the size of the loan exceeded Countrywide’s limit for a second home, Mozilo told an employee to “do the deal.”
Brian Brooks, a lawyer for Johnson, said that he never asked for a discount on his loans, and that it is “common knowledge” that individuals of high income and high net worth receive lower rates than other borrowers. “We don’t see anything out of the ordinary here.”
Widely criticized for spurring the country’s mortgage crisis with over-aggressive lending policies, Countrywide saw its share price plunge from $45 in February 2007 to less than $5 in January 2008, when Bank of America agreed to acquire the company in a $4 billion stock swap.
Countrywide is reportedly under F.B.I. investigation for alleged securities fraud, and Mozilo has drawn criticism for unloading $474 million in Countrywide shares between 2004 and 2007 as the housing crisis neared. He’s defended the sales as part of his retirement planning.
Additional reporting by Julia Ramey; this story was adapted from a feature in an upcoming issue of Condé Nast Portfolio.
From John Curry

Labels: , ,

Why Does Health Care Cost So Much?
AARP Magazine, July/August 2008
By Shannon Brownlee, July & August 2008
Even as millions aren’t getting treatments they vitally need, a leading medical journalist argues that the main culprit in the soaring cost of American health care is actually overtreatment… and all that extra care is making us sick.
Sandy and Charlie Murphy never imagined that paying for health care could put everything they owned at risk.
In 2002 the Murphys and their two sons were living a comfortable middle-class life in Scottsdale, Arizona, where Charlie, now 59, worked as a manager for Charles Schwab and where Sandy, now 60, was a part-time child advocate for the state. Then, in rapid succession, Charlie got laid off; Sandy quit to care for a son with health problems; Charlie discovered that his new employer set a $100,000 cap on lifetime medical-claim payments, necessitating a secondary policy; and the Murphys found themselves struggling to pay for health care. In 2006 their medical costs came to $25,000, most of it to cover insurance premiums—more than their annual mortgage payments.
Why does basic health care cost so much? That’s a question you won’t hear much in the news, despite the fact that the topic of health care is front and center in this year’s presidential race. The issue of cost has understandably taken a back seat to our concerns about the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance. Millions more, like the Murphys, are underinsured—covered so thinly that a single catastrophic illness could wipe them out financially. Even Americans who are fully insured by an employer or Medicare are paying more out of pocket, largely because medical costs are skyrocketing. According to the Congressional Budget Office, in the past 30 years health care spending has risen 2 percent faster annually than the rest of the economy. In 2007 the total U.S. health care bill came to $2.3 trillion—more than we spent last year on food.
What do we get for all that money? Politicians are constantly telling us we have the best health care in the world, but that’s simply not the case. By every conceivable measure, the health of Americans lags behind the health of citizens in other developed countries. Our life expectancy is shorter than that of citizens in Canada, Japan, and all but one Western European country. We rank 43rd in the world in infant-mortality rates, behind Cuba, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom. We are no less disabled by disease than citizens of most developed nations, and our medical care is, with few exceptions, no better at helping us survive specific diseases. For instance, the mortality rate from prostate cancer in the United Kingdom is virtually the same as it is in the United States, despite the fact that the disease is treated far less aggressively in the U.K.
Why, then, is our health care so astronomically expensive? Let’s look at some of the conventional beliefs.
• We don’t ration care Unlike citizens in the U.K. and Canada, we don’t have to wait weeks for elective surgery or an MRI. But when researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at the 15 procedures and tests that account for the majority of waiting lists in other countries, they found that they amounted to just 3 percent of costs in the United States, not nearly enough to explain the huge difference in spending.
• Malpractice is the culprit Doctors say their worries about lawsuits drive them to order costly tests and procedures that their patients do not actually need. Malpractice reform will help save money, but not as much as some people believe. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that while tort reforms could lower malpractice-insurance premiums for physicians by as much as 25 to 30 percent, the overall savings to our health care system would be a minuscule one-half percent.
• Inefficient insurance companies are to blame We devote nearly a third of our health care dollars to administrative costs—paper pushing, in effect. (Canada’s single-payer system, by contrast, is a model of efficiency, spending only about 16 percent of its health care dollars on administrative overhead.) If we could be as efficient as Canada, we could save $360 billion each year. That’s a lot of money, but it’s only about one seventh of our total health care spending.
• Consumers aren’t shopping wisely The moral-hazard argument says that because people don’t pay out of pocket, they use more-expensive health care than necessary. Moral hazard says we go to the doctor when we don’t really need to; we insist on getting a CT scan for a twisted ankle when ice and an Ace bandage will do. Experts will tell you that as many as one in four doctor’s-office visits are “social calls,” and nearly half of emergency room visits are for care that could have been handled in a nonemergency setting. But even this argument doesn’t explain why health care costs so much. That’s because 20 percent of patients account for 80 percent of spending, and that 20 percent is made up mostly of the chronically ill. These patients are often sick with multiple conditions—such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure—and more than half of the money we devote to caring for them is spent when they are in the hospital. People who are sick enough to be hospitalized are generally too ill to be insisting on certain tests or procedures.
Indeed, perhaps the most significant reason Americans are drowning in health care debt may shock you: Americans are getting far too much unnecessary care. Of our total $2.3 trillion health care bill last year, a whopping $500 billion to $700 billion was spent on treatments, tests, and hospitalizations that did nothing to improve our health. Even worse, new evidence suggests that too much health care may actually be killing us. According to estimates by Elliott Fisher, M.D., a noted Dartmouth researcher, unnecessary care leads to the deaths of as many as 30,000 Medicare recipients annually.
The Geography of Health Care
For many Americans the idea that doctors are giving us care we don’t need—and that may actually be harming us—may seem hard to believe. All too often, our interactions with the health care system make us feel that far from getting too much care, we’re getting barely enough. We wait weeks for an appointment, we’re rushed through the visit in ten minutes, and when we go to fill the prescription the doctor wrote, we’re told our insurance company won’t pay for it.
Indeed, one recent study found that due to inefficiencies and the lack of clear standards, patients had just a 50-50 chance of receiving flu shots, aspirin or beta-blockers (for those who had had a heart attack), antibiotics (for those with pneumonia), and other treatments that have been shown to improve health.
At the same time, a mountain of evidence suggests we also are getting care we don’t need. To understand the reasons, it helps to take a look at studies pioneered nearly 40 years ago by John E. Wennberg, M.D., director emeritus of Dartmouth’s Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. As a young researcher at the University of Vermont, Wennberg discovered that there appeared to be little connection between the availability of medical services, the care that people needed, and what they actually got. For example, in Middlebury, a small town south of Burlington, fewer than 10 percent of children under the age of 16 had their tonsils removed. In Morrisville, about a two-hour drive away, nearly 70 percent of children had the procedure. Middlebury wasn’t suffering from a shortage of doctors or hospital beds, and their children weren’t getting fewer sore throats than the children of Morrisville. It turned out that the Morrisville doctors simply believed a more-aggressive approach was best, even though there was no scientific evidence to support that belief. Once Wennberg pointed that out to the Morrisville doctors, they began doing fewer tonsillectomies.
Since then, researchers at Dartmouth and other academic institutions have continued to find wide discrepancies in how much care patients receive in different parts of the country—and the differences can be stunning. For example, if you are a Medicare recipient and you have a heart attack in a region where doctors practice less aggressive care, like Salt Lake City, your care will cost Medicare about $23,500 over the course of a year. But if you have your heart attack in a place like Los Angeles, the bill will be closer to $30,000.
The wide gulf in spending between the two cities is not because of different prices. Sure, everything costs a bit more in Los Angeles, including nurses’ salaries and the laundering of hospital linens, but not enough to account for the extra amount Medicare pays for a heart attack. The reason the same patient’s care costs more there than in Salt Lake City is that doctors and hospitals in Los Angeles tend to give their patients more tests, procedures, and surgeries, and their patients tend to spend more days in the hospital.
But here’s the important part. All that extra care in L.A. doesn’t lead to better outcomes. As it turns out, heart attack patients who receive the most care actually die at slightly higher rates than those who receive less care.
How can more health care be harmful? Just ask Susan Urquhart, 66, an Ann Arbor, Michigan, woman who underwent a hysterectomy she now says was “the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life.” For several years her gynecologist had been urging her to undergo the procedure to treat uterine fibroid tumors, benign growths that can sometimes cause heavy bleeding.
“I had heavy bleeding—I’d had it for years,” says Urquhart. “But it wasn’t interfering with my life.” Even so, her gynecologist warned her that the fibroids were growing and said that the best treatment was to remove Urquhart’s uterus and ovaries. Despite Urquhart’s misgivings about undergoing a surgery for symptoms that did not seem terribly troublesome, she finally consented.
Within weeks after the procedure, she discovered that the side effects of the surgery were far worse than the symptoms caused by her fibroids. Plunged instantly into menopause by the removal of her ovaries, Urquhart had trouble sleeping and began suffering hot flashes and drenching night sweats. Next, she began having trouble with bladder control, a common symptom among women who undergo a hysterectomy. And then her sex drive evaporated. Worst of all, Urquhart’s procedure may not have been necessary in the first place. In one recent study, a panel of gynecologists reviewed the records of 497 women who were told to have a hysterectomy. In 367 cases—70 percent—the panel found that the surgery was not needed. And recommendations, in force since the early 1990s, that gynecologists try less-invasive treatments first have had little effect on the number of surgeries being performed around the country. To this day, according to Ernst G. Bartsich, M.D., clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan, one in three women has had a hysterectomy by age 60, and one in two by age 65.
Unnecessary hysterectomies are but one example of how overtreatment can do more harm than good. Patients undergo back surgery for pain in the absence of evidence that the surgery works. They contract lethal infections while in the hospital for elective procedures. They suffer strokes when they undergo a surgery that, ironically, is intended to prevent stroke. And each year they undergo millions of tests—MRIs, CT scans, blood tests—that do little to help doctors diagnose disease.
So Why Do Doctors Do It?
Many physicians believe that demanding patients are the reason they are delivering so much unnecessary care. Patients insist on getting a prescription for a drug they saw advertised on TV, or on getting an unnecessary and pricey imaging test, such as a CT scan. Doctors comply for fear the patient will leave them for another physician, or because explaining why a drug or a test is unnecessary takes too much time. As one pediatric specialist told me, he’d rather send a child for an unnecessary imaging scan than fight with the kid’s parents, who will only think he’s incompetent because they know their child needs a scan.
Other doctors insist that malpractice suits are the culprit when it comes to rising costs. Though malpractice-insurance premiums and payouts constitute only a tiny fraction of our national health care bill, the fear of being sued causes physicians to order unnecessary tests, send patients to specialists, and sometimes even do needless procedures.
Why? Because doctors believe patients will be less likely to go to a lawyer if they think the doctor did everything possible—even when doing so doesn’t help the patient or causes harm, as in Susan Urquhart’s case. Statistics back this up. The top reason for malpractice payouts involves the failure on the doctor’s part to diagnose a disease.
Online and in person, doctors talk openly about this defensive medicine. “We practice defensive medicine so often, every day, all the time, we aren’t even aware we are doing it,” says Robert P. Lindeman, M.D., a Natick, Massachusetts, pediatrician.
Shawn D. Newlands, M.D., a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, says, “You have a patient who comes in with hearing loss. It might be an acoustic neuroma, a very rare [slow-growing] tumor.” Some doctors order an MRI for every patient who walks in the door complaining of hearing loss, says Newlands. But a more rational approach is to explain to the patient that there is only a small chance of a tumor. The doctor should say, “Let’s check your hearing in six months.” But many doctors don’t do that, says Newlands, because they worry the patient will go to a physician down the street, who will find a tumor, and the patient will turn around and sue the doctor who suggested waiting. He says, “It’s cheaper for the doctor to abuse the system and order an MRI for every patient with hearing loss.”
Two other hidden forces are pushing overtreatment. One is the local supply of medical resources. In many parts of the country there are more specialists and more hospital beds than necessary, and the doctors in those regions tend to practice more-aggressive care, hospitalizing patients unnecessarily and referring their patients to other specialists, who then perform more unneeded procedures and tests. The other hidden spur toward overtreatment occurs in the way our health care system is set up. Sometimes, providers deliver unneeded care because they get paid more when they do more. Most of our caregivers are still paid through a system known as fee for service. They are reimbursed for each office visit, each day a patient spends in the hospital, and each test or surgery performed. This means that health care providers have every incentive to give patients more care, not better care.
All too often—but what’s not well-known by the public—is that many physicians don’t even know what better care is. The prestigious Institute of Medicine recently published a report that estimates that only about half of what doctors do today is backed up by valid, scientific evidence. The rest? Many procedures and tests are based on medical tradition or on unproven and potentially faulty assumptions about how the body works.
Looking for Solutions
What all of this suggests is that efforts to rein in our health care costs will have to address the huge number of unnecessary tests, surgeries, doctor visits, and days in the hospital that are all helping to drive up our national medical bill. There are no easy solutions, but let’s look at some of the critical areas where a change in practices—and attitudes—is needed.
• Health information systems Though the technology exists to put all of our medical records online, few hospitals or health care systems in the country have invested in it. In most hospitals, paper records not only waste time but also lead to duplication of effort, creating more costly errors. An estimated 20 percent of tests and radiological scans are repeated simply because they can’t be located or can’t be transmitted from one doctor to another in a timely fashion.
• Shared decision making Doctors say they practice defensive medicine in part to avoid malpractice suits. But a better solution would be reforms that encourage doctors to spend the time needed to explain to patients the tradeoffs between potential treatments. Called shared decision making, this kind of interaction could provide more personalized medicine and would also reduce unnecessary care. Evidence suggests that patients who are truly informed about the risks and benefits of a treatment or a test are more satisfied with the choices they make and often less likely to want expensive invasive procedures. One challenge: Physicians would need protection from lawsuits brought by patients who had a bad result from a less-aggressive approach.
• Evidence-based research It is essential that we gather better scientific evidence for what works in medicine, what doesn’t, and for which patients—and get the word out to doctors. Take the example of spinal fusion to treat acute back pain. We spend more than $16 billion each year on spinal fusions, even though there has never been a rigorous government-funded clinical trial showing that the surgery is superior to other methods of relieving back pain.
• New ways of paying doctors and hospitals To avoid falling into the fee-for-service trap, many of the health care systems that offer the highest quality care have their doctors on salary. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic, for example, all work on salary. This idea is not popular with specialists, the doctors who earn the highest incomes, but many primary care physicians may be willing to try it. Offering decent salaries to primary care doctors would save money by encouraging them to spend the time needed to provide high-quality, low-cost care.
What You Can Do Now
Many of the reforms needed are out of the hands of the ordinary patient. But there are a few things you can do to protect your health as well as your pocketbook. Use these strategies to avoid getting care you don’t need—and probably wouldn’t want if you understood the risks involved.
1. Find a doctor who communicates Most of us need a primary care doctor who can clearly explain what ails us and the possible ways to treat it. If you have a physician who does this, stick with him or her. If your current doctor tends to rush you or doesn’t explain things well, tell him or her you need more time.
2. Coordinate your own care Talk to your primary care doctor about making sure he or she sees copies of your medical records from all your various doctors. Somebody besides you needs to know what all your physicians are doing—including all procedures, tests, and drugs they’ve prescribed. This is especially important if you are on multiple drugs or have a chronic condition, such as diabetes or an autoimmune disorder, that requires visits to multiple specialists.
3. Get the right specialist If you or a loved one is facing a serious illness, find yourself a palliative-care doctor. Physicians trained in this specialty have a particular expertise in the control of pain. They are also trained to coordinate the care among your various doctors.
4. Find out what difference a test or procedure makes Ask your doctor what he or she expects to learn from the test and whether the results will make a difference in your treatment.
5. Weigh the benefits and risks If a physician recommends a surgical procedure, ask what will happen if you decide not to do it—or if there is a less-invasive treatment option.
No one believes that reforming our national health care system will be easy. In fact, it is likely to be painful and will take many years to implement. But as the presidential campaigns move forward, our political candidates will have to address the rising cost of medicine, and if they’re honest with us, they will also discuss the problem of unnecessary care.
Shannon Brownlee is the author of Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer (Bloomsbury, 2007).

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Items from the article's sidebars:
Find out what you can do to reduce your health care costs. See the box "Keep Your Costs Down" below. Sandy and Charlie Murphy never imagined that paying for health care could put everything they owned at risk.
Be Part of the Solution
Have you ever questioned whether you really needed that test or medical procedure? Join with AARP in a movement to bring affordable health care to all Americans. Speak up for change at
What Can Be Done to Fix Health Care
In the past decade the skyrocketing cost of health care has had a devastating impact on American families and employers. Nearly a half-million people file for bankruptcy every year because of high medical costs. Another 47 million lack health insurance altogether. Clearly, the system needs reform. —Jim Jaffe

View chart: Five Proposals to Repair a Broken System
$500 BILLION: amount that Americans spend annually on unnecessary care
30,000: number of Medicare recipients who die each year as a result of unneeded care
50%: portion of surgeries, tests, and procedures that are not backed by scientific evidence
AARP: Health Care and Pharmacy Benefits for People 50 and Over
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Online Extra… Keep Your Costs Down

Avoiding unnecessary treatment by playing a more active and informed role in your health care may help reduce your health costs. Educate yourself with these AARP resources.

Preventive Care
Staying healthy is as important as getting the right treatment when you're sick. Here are some tips for making preventive care part of your healthy lifestyle plan.

How to Talk to Your Dr.
Find out how to make talking to your physician more effective.

Research Your Health
Learn how to get essential information about your medical condition.

Using Meds Wisely
Find links to online tutorials and consumer guides on medications and their uses and side effects.

Your Health History
Keeping a written health history can improve the care you get, help eliminate duplicate tests, and allow you to have information at the ready in case of an emergency. Here are some important tips.

Personal Medication Record
Use this form to keep track of all the meds you take, including over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Duane Tron re: public education, charter schools, & NCLB

From John Curry, June 25, 2008
Duane....truer words were never spoken! John
From Duane Tron, June 25, 2008
Subject: Re: NCLB and the worm is turning
Gee! I think I have written all of this a hundred times over the past 20 years! Even more so since working with Dave Speas during the past eight years. Dave and I have stated all of these points over and over in published letters and public discussions for years. We see it and live it every day!
John, the problem in public education is everyone, with the exception of a very tiny number, have attended public or private school. Since they have gone to school they automatically think this qualifies them as authorities on everything in education. Listen to all of the former jocks who attend high school, college, and professional sporting events. Everyone of them thinks they could do a better job coaching than the people coaching the teams.
I sit at events and listen to them rip and snort at the refs and coaches and they actually think they know what they're talking about. Therefore, it isn't a surprise that politicians, and our President, think they know better how to run education than those of us who are working in it. We keep telling them what we need and they ignore us and do what they want.
We have talked to them about the fact that most children's learning issues are rooted outside of the schools, and the classrooms. They refuse to listen to us and initiate ridiculous and phony charter schools. They try and treat public education the same way we treat private business and when working with children they are NOT just some expendable commodity being processed.
Duane Tron
From John Curry, June 25, 2008
Subject: NCLB and the worm is turning
Time, June 8 2008
No Child Left Behind: Doomed to Fail?
By Claudia Wallis
There was always something slightly insane about No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the ambitious education law often described as the Bush Administration's signature domestic achievement. For one thing, in the view of many educators, the law's 2014 goal — which calls for all public school students in grades 4 through 8 to be achieving on grade level in reading and math — is something no educational system anywhere on earth has ever accomplished. Even more unrealistic: every kid (except for 3% with serious handicaps or other issues) is supposed to be achieving on grade level every year, climbing in lockstep up an ever more challenging ladder. This flies in the face of all sorts of research showing that children start off in different places academically and grow at different rates.
Add to the mix the fact that much of the promised funding failed to materialize and many early critics insisted that No Child Left Behind was nothing more than a cynical plan to destroy American faith in public education and open the way to vouchers and school choice.
Now a former official in Bush's Education department is giving at least some support to that notion. Susan Neuman, a professor of education at the University Michigan who served as Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education during George W. Bush's first term, was and still is a fervent believer in the goals of NCLB. And she says the President and then Secretary of Education Rod Paige were too. But there were others in the department, according to Neuman, who saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda — a way to expose the failure of public education and "blow it up a bit," she says. "There were a number of people pushing hard for market forces and privatization."
Tensions between NCLB believers and the blow-up-the-schools group were one reason the Bush Department of Education felt like "a pressure cooker," says Neuman, who left the Administration in early 2003. Another reason was political pressure to take the hardest possible line on school accountability in order to avoid looking lax — like the Clinton Administration. Thus, when Neuman and others argued that many schools would fail to reach the NCLB goals and needed more flexibility while making improvements, they were ignored. "We had this no-waiver policy," says Neuman. "The feeling was that the prior administration had given waivers willy-nilly."
It was only in Bush's second term that the hard line began to succumb to reality. Margaret Spellings, who replaced Paige as Secretary of Education in 2005, gradually opened the door to a more flexible and realistic approach to school accountability. Instead of demanding lockstep, grade-level achievement, schools in some states could meet the NCLB goals by demonstrating adequate student growth. (In this "growth model" approach, a student who was three years behind in reading and ended the year only one year behind would not be viewed as a failure.) "Going to the growth models is the right way to go," says Neuman. "I wish it had come earlier. It didn't because we were trying to be tough."
Neuman also regrets the Administration's use of humiliation and shame as a lever for school reform. Failure to meet NCLB's inflexible goals meant schools would be publicly labeled as failures. Neuman now sees this as a mistake: "Vilifying teachers and saying we are going to shame them was not the right approach."
The combination of inflexibility and public humiliation for those not meeting federal goals ignited so much frustration among educators that NCLB now appears to be an irreparably damaged brand. "The problems lingered long enough and there's so much anger that it may not be fixable," says Neuman. While the American Federation of Teachers was once on board with the NCLB goals, she notes, the union has turned against it. "Teachers hate NCLB because they feel like they've been picked on."
Is there a way out of the mess? Neuman still supports school accountability and the much-maligned annual tests mandated by the law. But she now believes that the nation has to look beyond the schoolroom, if it wishes to leave no child behind.
Along with 59 other top educators, policymakers and health officials--including three former surgeon generals, she's put her name to a nonpartisan document to be released on Tuesday by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. Titled "A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education," it lays out an expansive vision for leveling the playing field for low-income kids, one that looks toward new policies on child health and support for parents and communities. The document states that much of the achievement gap between rich and poor "is rooted in what occurs outside of formal schooling," and therefore calls on policymakers to "rethink their assumptions" about what it will take to close that gap. Neuman says that money she's seen wasted on current programs, including much of the massive Title 1 spending should be reallocated according to this broader approach. "Pinning all our hopes on schools will never change the odds for kids."


Minutes of CORE meeting, June 19, 2008

From Glenna Barr, June 25, 2008
The monthly meeting of Concerned Ohio Retired Educators (CORE) was held June 19, 2008 at 11:45 a.m. the STRS building in Columbus. Trustees present: Lloyd Knudsen (substituting for Chuck Chapman), Nancy Hamant and Nancy Boomhower. Officers present: President Dave Parshall; Vice President Mary Ellen Angeletti; Treasurer C.J. Myers; and Secretary Glenna Barr. 21 members were present, including a new potential member, Sharon Oliver, and ORTA representative Lou DiOrio.
Dave Parshall called the meeting to order. He called for the approval of the May meeting minutes. Nancy Hamant made a motion to accept the minutes, seconded by Nancy Boomhower. The motion was approved. C.J. Myers read the Treasurer's report. Dave reported that he had sent a thank you e-mail to everyone who made a donation of $100 or more.
A. Dave reported that he had written a rebuttal letter to OEA's criticism of CORE, which had been published by the Whitehall Educational Association during the spring 2008 STRS Board election campaign. The letter to the president of the Association.
B. Ryan Holderman led a discussion of a proposed CORE constitutional amendment to collect membership dues and to encourage donations to CORE's legal fund. This change would affect the Constitutional Bylaws, Article I - Membership, Section 2. At the August meeting (there is no meeting in July) we will review the changes, and at the September meeting vote on it. Both meetings will be especially important ones for CORE members to attend.
C. A revision of the CORE brochure needs to be done by the September meeting. Ryan Holderman sent, for the executive committee's consideration, a suggested form for the enrollment portion of the new CORE brochure to help update the membership data base. This will also be placed on the website,, after the September CORE annual membership meeting. Dave will make up a sample brochure for the August meeting. Those present made suggestions for the new brochure.
D. Dave will be looking into the cost of printing with the company that printed the current brochure. He will also be checking into the cost of bulk mailing service. A motion was made by Mary Ellen Angeletti, seconded by Ryan Holderman, for Dave to investigate the cost of bulk mailing. The motion was approved.
E. Dave will send notices to new retirees inviting them to join CORE. This will be discussed at the August meeting.
F. Lloyd Knudsen will speak at today's STRS Board meeting to thank Damon Asbury, retired STRS executive director, for the positive things he did during his five year tenure at STRS and urge his successor, Michael J. Nehf, to continue a positive program for the retirees and continue to meet with CORE representatives.
G. A discussion was held regarding STRS Health Care costs; noting how they have increased and still are increasing, and problems encountered during hospital stays.
H. A general discussion was held regarding CORE-related bulk e-mails going out. People sending an e-mail do need to specify that it is the opinion of the sender and not an official e-mail from CORE; also that the e-mail does not necessarily reflect the opinion of CORE. The sender should also indicate who or what organization(s) they are a affiliated with (ex. OEA R, ORTA, CORE, etc.). E-mails sometimes give the impression that they are official CORE statements of policy when in reality they are not. This has caused confusion for a number of groups we have to deal with. Official CORE e-mails sent to members are designated as CORE ALERTs and are initially sent out by John Curry and subsequently sent out by others, which is OK, as long as the distinction is clear. It was also pointed out that as educators we need to be all the more conscientious about proofreading and correcting our e-mails for spelling, grammar and good composition, as careless mistakes could be a reflection on CORE (not to mention the teaching profession). A suggested disclaimer header will be provided to members that they may use at the beginning of messages that are not official CORE communications.
Dave announced that a memorial contribution has been made to Paul Boyer's church in his memory. An extremely dedicated and highly valued (and very much missed) CORE member, Paul passed away on June 3.
The meeting was adjourned. The next meeting will be August 14, 2008.
Submitted by Glenna Barr, Secretary
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
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