Saturday, August 30, 2008

Shirlee Zerkel to Sandy Knoesel: A question about the zero co-pay list

Sandy Knoesel to Shirlee Zerkel, August 28, 2008
Subject: RE: Question about zero co-pay list
Thank you for your question about ostomy supplies being covered under the $0 copayment for select Medicare Part B drugs. Since ostomy supplies are categorized under Medicare Part B as durable medical equipment, these supplies are coordinated through the hospital/medical plan. Ostomy supplies are not eligible for coverage under the prescription drug plan.
For your reference, Medicare defines durable medical equipment as, “Certain medical equipment that is ordered by a doctor for use in the home. Examples are walkers, wheelchairs or hospital beds.” With the exception of diabetic test strips and lancets which are not covered under the medical plan, durable medical equipment (DME) as defined by Medicare is not considered a prescription drug expense. Ostomy supplies coordinated through our medical plan, like most Medicare Part B covered DME and supplies, are not eligible for coverage consideration under the prescription drug plan.
I hope this information is helpful.
Sandy Knoesel
Deputy Executive Director – Member Benefits
From Shirlee Zerkel, August 24, 2008
Subj: Question about zero co-pay list
Dear Ms. Knoesel:
I want to thank you for the List of Medicare Part B zero co-pay drugs and supplies. It will be most helpful for the retirees. At this time I also have a question about something that is not on your list. Why aren't ostomy supplies on the list?
Shirlee Zerkel

Friday, August 29, 2008

John Grossman
Condolences are extended to the family and friends of John E. Grossman and to the Columbus Education Association in his unexpected and untimely death on July 28, 2008. John was president of CEA for many years, retiring in 2004 and continuing as an advisor to the union in subsequent years. He will be very much missed. Tributes and more may be read in a July 29 post on The CEA Blog. Article in the Columbus Dispatch

Uh-oh...better not get ill around these hospitals...they want "cash on the barrelhead!"

From John Curry, August 29, 2008
A disturbing new trend is hospital billing is emerging in this country. Oh like George says..."just go to an emergency room!" John
South Florida
Sign in and pay now: Insured patients finding they must put down higher fees upfront for care
More hospitals want payment before treatment
By June Torbati
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
August 26, 2008
Patients who need medical procedures are accustomed to following a familiar pattern: Talk to a doctor, schedule it at a hospital, have the procedure done and then get a bill in the mail a month later for your share of the cost.
But in South Florida and nationwide, some insured patients are being asked by hospitals to pay larger portions of their bills upfront — and sometimes hospitals will not do the procedures until they get their co-payments.
Hospitals administer emergency treatment without asking for payment first, but elective or scheduled procedures — anything from nose jobs to chemotherapy — can be withheld depending on a patient's ability to pay.
An informal survey of 22 hospitals in Broward and Palm Beach counties found that all have required upfront payments for elective surgeries for several years. The change that might shock patients, hospital officials said, is the larger amounts requested as insurance companies require patients to make higher out-of-pocket payments.
"As the economy worsens, employers are having a harder time affording insurance for their employees, they're increasing the patient portion, and patients' benefits actually decrease," said David Smith, chief financial officer for tax-assisted Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood.
The change has caught some South Floridians by surprise. Fort Lauderdale mortgage broker Jack Atwell, 58, was directed by his doctor at Broward General Medical Center to have a cardiac catheterization test after stress tests indicated he was at risk for a heart attack.
The hospital staff told Atwell two days before the procedure in June that he needed to bring with him his full share of $2,500. After Atwell told the hospital he could not come up with the money in two days, Broward General lowered its request to $1,000. He offered $500. After the hospital rejected that offer, the procedure was canceled."At this point, between the stress of the potential heart attack and trying to deal with this and the procedure itself, I was in tears," Atwell said. "Here I am, a person who's worked his entire life, paid his bills, does the right thing, has insurance, and I can't get a procedure that I need done."
After calling other South Florida hospitals, Atwell learned Holy Cross would not charge him upfront, and he had his procedure done in early July. He has since switched to a doctor at Holy Cross.
Atwell said he thought having insurance would be all he needed to access care.
"I really didn't have any expectations," he said. "I had never confronted a problem like that before."
Broward Health, the tax-supported hospital district that operates Broward General, could not comment on the specifics of Atwell's case because he declined to sign a consent form authorizing the district to discuss his medical and financial situation. District spokeswoman Sara Howley did say that Broward General did not bar Atwell from receiving care.
"We feel that this is more of an issue with an insurance company," Howley said.
In fact, even the insured are finding their out-of-pocket payments are growing faster than their wages as employers try to pass on high health-care costs to their employees through greater cost-sharing. Health-insurance premiums increased 78 percent between 2001 and 2007, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health-care research organization.
"Employers are either cutting back on the benefits that they offer employees or asking employees to contribute a bigger stake in their health care," said Mitch Lubitz, a spokesman for Humana, a health insurer with more than 154,000 members in South Florida.
The Florida Hospital Association is seeing a "spotty trend toward upfront payments" in Florida, said Rich Rasmussen, the organization's spokesman.
The Internal Revenue Service looked into the issue for the first time in 2006 through a voluntary survey and found 14 percent of 481 nonprofit hospitals nationwide required patients pay or work out a payment plan before being admitted.
Patient advocates said asking for payment before care is delivered, and with short-term notice, places stress on vulnerable individuals who might face life-threatening illnesses. "Somebody facing a catastrophic illness and having to be burdened with the extra stress of paying a co-pay or premium is just unconscionable," said Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida CHAIN, a consumer-health advocacy organization based in Palm Beach Gardens.
Hospitals argue that rising health care costs and hard economic times have caused an explosion in care for which they are not paid.
According to the Florida Hospital Association, state hospitals spent $2.4 billion on uncompensated care in 2006, a growth of 73 percent since 2000. The association attributes the growth partly to growing numbers of uninsured Floridians. Experts estimate 3.7 million people — 21 percent of the state's population — are uninsured, the third-highest proportion in the nation in 2006.
Other issues, unique to Florida, are also factors.
"We have a number of visitors who use our services who tend to be out-of-town residents or out-of-country residents and then leave," Rasmussen said.
June Torbati can be reached at or 954-356-4412.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tom Curtis, Sen. Sherrod Brown re: GPO/WEP

Thank you, Tom Curtis, for writing concerning the Senate Bill S.206 - The Social Security Fairness Act. So...just who are these Senators who sit on the Senate Finance Committee? Well, here's the list. It might not hurt if they get "bounced" re. the WEP/GPO repeal.
John Curry

United States Senate Committee on Finance

The Committee is chaired by Democrat Max Baucus, of Montana, and the Ranking Minority Member is Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Tom Curtis to Sen. Sherrod Brown, August 26, 2008
Subject: Re: Reply from Senator Sherrod Brown
Dear Senator Brown,
What can be done on your and my part to bring this important piece of legislation to the floor? This must be resolved in fairness to those being penalized by the WEP/GPO.
As you are aware, the cost of health care for my wife and I today has taken a huge bite out of my STRS pension. Receiving my full benefit from SS would certainly help to offset these costs and is something I had planned on, only to find that I have been penalized.
I did my part, I worked and paid into SS as was asked and required of me. Now, because I also have worked and receive a pension from the STRS, I am being told that I do not qualify for my full SS benefit. That is cruel and unusual punishment.
Please make this one of your top priorities!
I realize that everyone asks you to consider their concern to be a top priority, but the WEP/GPO is anything but fair to those having to pay the price.
Thank you for responding,
Thomas Curtis
STRS Retiree
Sherrod Brown to Tom Curtis, August 25, 2008
Subject: Reply from Senator Sherrod Brown
Dear Mr. Curtis:
Thank you for contacting me regarding S.206, the Social Security Fairness Act.
The Social Security Fairness Act was introduced by Senator Feinstein on January 9, 2007 and was referred to the Committee on Finance. The Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy then held a hearing on November 6, 2007 regarding policies affecting pensions from work not covered by Social Security, including the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision. The Finance Committee has not taken further action on the bill.
I share your concern for the unfair burden these provisions place on individuals who have earned their Social Security benefits and receive a government pension. Employees who work hard and follow the rules should not be penalized with lower benefits because of pension income they have also earned. As a cosponsor of S. 206, I will continue to push for prompt consideration of this legislation and will certainly support it should it come before the Senate floor.
Thank you again for contacting me.

Sherrod Brown

From The School Administrator: The attempts of political bodies to bludgeon public schools with arbitrary performance standards

From Dave Speas, August 22, 2008
Subject: Re: .from the The School Administrator
I found this quite interesting. You may have read this article but in case not, here it is. It is proof of what many of us in education have been feeling for a long time.
To access this entire article from "The School Administrator" magazine please click here.

RH Jones: We do not have time to wait

RH Jones to Kathie Bracy and John Curry, August 23, 2008
Subject: No patience & wisdom and wisdom for skunks that delay HB 315
Kathie & John,
Concerning our health bill, HB 315. We do not have time to wait as this dog patiently waits for his meal. The skunks have certainly delayed this bill too long!
My opinion,
Subject: patience & wisdom
One of the greatest secrets of life is having patience & wisdom...







RH Jones to American Legion Magazine: America’s public schools deserve the Legion magazine’s support

From RH Jones, August 22, 2008
Subject: My letter to the American Legion Magazine
To all:
This is a copy of a letter I mailed today 22 August 2008:
Mr. Daniel S. Wheeler, Executive Director
The American Legion Magazine
P.O. Box 1055
Indianapolis, IN 46206
Dear Mr. Wheeler:
Re: America’s public schools deserve the Legion magazine’s support.
The education article: “Home sweet homeschooling” (exact spelling quote) cites a study by the neo-conservative group Fraser Institute that seems to insinuate, to this American Legion PUFL Member, that the exploding home school movement is a good thing for America. I respectfully disagree.
And this is not the first time that the Legion joined the attack on public education. I wrote to the Legion once before expressing respectful disagreement with the Legion in an article that praised the failed Charter School movement. I would like to ask: How patriotic is it to attack the bedrock American Public Schools System that has broad public support?
Of course, in this imperfect, democratically-controlled diverse public school system, there are struggling and failed public schools that require a fix from a well-rounded research that is unfettered by bias, unreasonable expectations, and political positioning. Any failure in our public school system has been the result of class size, child poverty, and dysfunctional families, crumbling communities, unreasonable/unfunded government mandates, and the constant bombardment of teacher morale.
America now and in the future, as well as depending on a strong military system, depends on a strong public school system; we cannot have one without the other.
Robert Hudson Jones

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Deborah Silverstein's speech to STRS Board, August 14, 2008

As an STRS benefit recipient I am very thankful for the health care insurance that is offered to me. I can also appreciate the difficulty STRS faces in providing that benefit to me and I do realize that STRS is not required to provide that benefit. I retired 3 years ago from the Stow-Munroe Falls City School District. When I retired, my premium was $144 per month. Next January it will rise to $207 per month. That is a 43.75% increase over three and one-half years.
HB 315 will provide funding for health insurance for a while, but at a cost to still-active teachers. In addition to the increased percentage asked of them, many, who describe themselves as "hopelessly resigned" to the actuality of HB 315, feel that the increase required of Boards of Education will be passed on to them through decreased compensation settlements at the bargaining table. The money has to come from somewhere, and most school districts find it increasingly difficult to pass levies in order to provide the students with the education they deserve. As one active teacher states, "We can't just bandage the wound. We need to stop the bleeding." The ultimate goal has to be to change the way the system works and that change will have to be fundamental and profound. HB 315, while necessary under the present system, will only provide temporary relief and is not a solution to the problem as a whole.
As members we put our trust in you to make decisions on our behalf and hope those decisions are in our best interest. Members also look to you for leadership on issues such as this one. I strongly urge this Board to examine every possibility for a long term solution to the problem, including and especially HB 186 and SB 168, known as the Health Care for All Ohioans Act. That legislation, if enacted would provide an improvement in benefits at a reduced cost to individuals while resulting in no cost to STRS. In addition, it would save school districts millions of dollars.
I realize that this solution does not yet exist and there are many who think it is a good idea, but that it will never happen. I say, "Don't concede the war before you fight the first battle." Yes, it will be a great challenge and it will take much work, but it can be done. This is an issue where no one can sit back and wait for "them" to do the right thing. We all have to be "them" and work to make this happen. As a member, I hope you will be willing to lend us your support and work with us to provide a permanent solution.
Deborah Silverstein
Kent, OH


Alan Wingo's speech to STRS Board, August 14, 2008

First of all, thank you for listening to my concerns and suggestions. After 30 years of being a science teacher and assistant principal, I retired in June of 2000. I worked in Princeton City Schools for 21 years and Fairfield City Schools for 9 years. I definitely should receive and 'F' for retirement. Since retiring, I have taught 9th grade science at Finneytown City Schools for 2 years and taught science at a charter school in Dayton, named Life Skills, for 6 months. I am entering my 3rd year of teaching science at an alternative school for Butler Tech. I guess I just enjoy working with young people.
While an assistant principal and in my 29th year, I had surgery for a 30 pound malignant tumor in my lower abdomen, followed with 320 hours of chemotherapy. I did not seek disability. I returned and completed my 30th year and retired.
On the last day of school in 2007, I received the dreaded telephone call from my oncologists to inform me my lyposarcoma had returned in my groin area. After further tests, it was discovered I also had a second type of cancer, Hodgkins Lymphoma. I had successful surgery on both areas. The follow-up treatment required chemo -- again -- and radiation. While going through chemo and radiation, I continued to teach, taking only the day after chemo off from school to regain my strength.
I get a charge out of working with kids. The more difficult the student, the bigger the challenge. For this moment, I am cancer free. Believe me, I fully understand that I am only as good as my next CT scan. I will have one later this fall. The oncologist has explained to me that there may never be a reoccurrence of this disease. If it does return, it should follow the same pattern as last time and be very slow growing.
When I saw your newsletter regarding the January 1st, 2009 deadline, I knew this affected me directly. Butler Tech does not offer health coverage to "rehired" teachers. I have spoken by telephone to several private health insurance carriers. Their responses have been "of course, we will give you coverage FOR everything BUT cancer." Due to all of my health screenings, I have tried to explain that I am probably the healthiest person in the room.
I would like to offer the following suggestions for you to consider:
1. I should be able to pay FULL monthly premiums on my retired wife's STRS health insurance as any other husband is allowed.
2. Start the rehire health coverage plan effective only for teachers who switch jobs or start working after January 1st, 2009. That would "grandfather" those who were not able to consider this situation.
3. Allow present rehires time to finish this school year, 2008-2009, with health insurance coverage.
I believe these are very logical and reasonable suggestions. I would strongly suggest a blend into new procedures and guidelines.


Dr. Alice Faryna, M.D.: Speech to STRS Board, August 14, 2008

Presentation to the Board members of STRS:
We, as retirees under STRS, are here to express our concern about the rapidly deteriorating status of employee and retiree health benefits affecting not only Ohio but the entire nation. For example, the state of California, facing a budget shortfall, has been forced to reduce the teaching force. In Ohio, we are especially concerned that the health benefit is not mandated. The most recent STRS health care newsletter states that introduction of new technology and drugs is driving costs up 20 to 30%. Current STRS strategies include education of benefit recipients about active management of health problems, chronic conditions and how to be better purchasers of health services. It is encouraging to read that STRS also plans to participate in influencing the health care agenda on the state and national levels.
The proposal to support Ohio HB 315, which calls for more contributions from teachers still in the workforce, is at best a temporary solution, and imposes additional financial burdens on teachers who are already facing increasing out-of-pocket costs from higher deductibles and/or co-payments. The costs to the districts are considerable. Please refer to the spreadsheet we have prepared on district health care costs which currently range from 11% to 30% of payroll, with a median of about 18%. Legislation is available at both the state and national levels to lower this percentage to single digits. (Ohio HB 186/SB168, or the national plan, HR 676).
We urge the Board to be more aggressive about comprehensive reform. Lower costs can only be achieved by creating the largest risk pool possible, removing profits and administrative waste from the formula, and allowing negotiation of drug prices.
We ask that you consider endorsing a single payer system at either the state or national level. This has the support of numerous organizations:
The Columbus City Council joined several other City and County governments in endorsing a state single payer plan.
The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers endorsed the single payer plan last fall.
This spring at the national annual conference of U.S. mayors, the single payer plan was unanimously endorsed. A survey of AMA members shows that 59% of physicians support single payer, including the 126,000 members of the American College of Physicians, and the 14,000 members of Physicians for a National Health Plan. Two years ago, the California legislature approved a statewide single payer plan which was vetoed by the governor. A compromise plan which retains a for-profit insurance industry and mandates purchase of insurance, was rejected by the Senate as unaffordable. California is now preparing another single payer bill.
We would be pleased to meet with the Board or SPC at another time for a more comprehensive discussion of the materials supplied in this packet.
Alice Faryna M.D.
Click image to enlarge.





Shirlee to Sandy: Thanks, but why aren't ostomy supplies on the list?

Shirlee Zerkel to Sandy Knoesel, August 25, 2008
Subject: Question about zero co-pay list
Dear Ms. Knoesel:
I want to thank you for the List of Medicare Part B zero co-pay drugs and supplies. It will be most helpful for the retirees. At this time I also have a question about something that is not on your list. Why aren't ostomy supplies on the list?
Shirlee Zerkel

Monday, August 25, 2008


From John Curry, August 25, 2008
Subject: Comments re. the website "Entitlement Mentality" blog entry by Mr. Paul Lambert

Attention Mr. Paul Lambert,
I am writing you in reference to your blog comments re. Kathie Bracy's blog posting, "Every penny & Do all Americans pay their fair share?" that you posted on June 23, 2008.
Your blog entry concerning this article recently came to my attention by Kathie Bracy herself. I have several comments concerning your statements in this article:
First, let me make it clear that the author of this article was not Kathie Bracy but this is clearly stated just after the title with these words: "From John Curry, June 14, 2008."
Next, you go on to say, "I'm not sure what those reforms are, but perhaps her (actually my) comments about the Social Security system, in which she (actually me) now participates, are an indicator."
Mr. Lambert, it would have benefited you to do a little research to see "what those reforms are" as you would have found they had nothing to do with the Social Security system at all. These reforms all had to do with the reform of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio and were initiated by both CORE (Concerned Ohio Retired Educators) members and STRS Board members John Lazares and Dennis Leone.
Dr. Leone and John Lazares, both CORE members, initiated these reforms...most all of which I believe you would probably find acceptable to the taxpayer such as yourself. Here is a list of those reforms:
Had STRS Board members Dr. Dennis Leone and John Lazares not brought these issues up, the STRS of Ohio would still be doing the following items...... • Legal expenses paid for by STRS for staff members who hire their own lawyers outside STRS, for whatever purpose, without prior knowledge and consent of the Board
• Huge bonuses for over 300 non-investment staff members/employees who do no more than their day-to-day job (investment staff deserve the bonuses)
• Bonus checks for investment staff members would still be based, at least in part, on subjective factors instead of solely on benchmark factors
• STRS employees who adopt children would still be getting a $5,000 gift from STRS
• Cars for staff members and their families to use at their own discretion, permitted by official Board policy
• As many as seven Board members taking the same expensive trip and to faraway places such as Hawaii, Palm Springs, Anchorage, Kiawah Island, China, Africa; stays at fancy hotels with a minimum of "business" being conducted
• Free lunches/dinners at fancy restaurants; free booze; STRS paying beach bar bills
• Free use of STRS laptop computers in the homes of Board members, with no way of really monitoring whether the use of the laptops was personal -- in violation of Board policy
• Free credit cards for staff and Board members
• Free newspaper subscriptions, personal long distance phone calls, personal fax machines for Board members
• Unitemized lunch and dinner bills paid by STRS
• Thousand dollar plane tickets to New York, paid by STRS, with no requirement that far more economical reservations be made 30 days in advance
• Broadway shows, baseball games, concerts, trips to Kings Island and Columbus Zoo Light Show, etc., either at STRS expense or as gifts from companies doing business with STRS
• State Attorney General and State Auditor would still be on the Board
• Executive director would still be advising the Board to approve big money contracts without documentation, and most of them would be dumb enough (call it "trusting") to do it
• Lawyers would still be inserting language in such contracts after the Board approves it (thanks to the "trustworthy" executive director/staff)
• Free second night stays in Columbus and elsewhere (Orlando, etc.) for Board members, following meetings, for no legitimate reason
• Free hotel stays and meals for spouse/partner of Board member
• There would still be nine members on the Board, with no investment experts whatsoever
• Herb Dyer would still be there, along with a number of other Board members whose ethics prevented them from following the spirit and the letter of ORC 3307.15
• Child care services for STRS employees would not come close to covering the operating costs of the center; cafeteria services would not be cost neutral
• STRS would still be spending $5,000 a year to beautify the front lobby at Christmas time (remember all the poinsettias?)
• There would be no policy requiring that the Board receive copies of big ticket contracts before voting on them
• Free college education would still be offered/provided for employees, regardless of whether the employee gets a "C" or a "D" in the course
• STRS would still be buying tickets to the zoo for employees' families, then appropriating them for themselves so that somebody else would have to pay for the children to go, or they wouldn't get to go at all (talk about Grinches)
• Reimbursements for unused sick leave/vacation leave for employees who don't qualify
• There would be no policy prohibiting the awarding of sick leave accumulation to rehired retirees who were already paid for their accumulated sick leave at their previous public employer
• Escalating, unchecked administrative expenses; unchecked hiring of staff and employees
• Waterfalls would still grace the main lobby
• The Board still would be allowing the executive director to give severance cash and free health insurance to laid off STRS employees without formal board approval
• The Board still would be going into executive session, illegally, to discuss proposed policies
• The Express Scripts contract would not have several provisions that it currently does regarding the company’s fiduciary obligations with the board
• There would still be secret balloting by the Board
• There would be no statutory provision in Senate Bill 133 in 2004 that prohibited the likes of Jack Chapman, Hazel Sidaway, Eugene Norris, and Debbie Scott from ever serving on the board again because of their STRS spending habits
• There would be no language in Senate Bill 133 stipulating that future dishonesty on STRS Board election materials (such as saying that you are teaching social studies at Perry High School when you’re really not) will knock you off the board
• Mike Billirakis, Jack Chapman, Hazel Sidaway, Eugene Norris, Debbie Scott, Joe Endry and Herb Dyer would not have been convicted in court. Say what you want about it being an Ethics Commission investigation, but it was the Commission's head, David Freel himself, who said that Dennis Leone’s 2003 findings triggered the whole thing (along with Sondra Stratton pushing the Commission relentlessly in 2004).
Mr. Lambert, the last item in the list above was accomplished by CORE member Sondra Stratton who filed an official complaint with the Ohio Ethics commission. Sondra is a retired educator from Brown County, Ohio. Thanks to her, these six former Board members and the former Executive Director of Ohio STRS now have criminal convictions for violations of Ohio's ethics laws. This, Mr. Lambert, is matter "how you slice it."
Now, let's examine the Social Security part of the entry that you seem to be concerned about. In Ms. Bracy's (actually my) posting, it was stated, "Every penny of what I currently earn is taxed by Social Security...that's not to say the same applies to ALL Americans who derive income from non-governmental jobs who ALSO pay into Social Security. THEY DON'T pay tax on every penny they make...were you aware of that? Many Americans stop paying into Social Security after their annual wages exceed $102,000."
In reference to the (my) posting above you state, "Ms. Bracy is forgetting the other half of this deal - "Social Security benefits are calculated based on what a worker pays into the system over a lifetime. Therefore people whose premiums have been limited will also have limits applied to their payout."
To your above comment I say, yes, the very wealthy who pay into Social Security will have their benefits limited should they retire a millionaire or a billionaire but...don't you think they won't require the Social Security as a "safety net" so that they won't starve or freeze to death? I doubt if any of those who retire with multiple years of annual wages over $102,000 per year will have these problems unless they are fools or gamblers. Also, Social Security was designed as a "safety net" and not to be one's sole monetary retirement income. The very wealthy, having "extra cash" can and should invest some of this "extra cash" in investments, bonds, CD's, or a host of other investment instruments available for this extra cash. The majority of people not earning the $102,000 per year spend most of their incomes for the necessities of life: food, shelter, clothing,transportation, and nowadays, medical insurance and healthcare expenses.
So, yes, the wealthy don't pay Social Security on annual salaries or wages over 102K but this 102K figure should be raised significantly so that the many millionaires and a few billionaires don't "skate" by without paying SS on those millions and billions. Presidential candidate Obama wants to see a donut hole (as I call it) or void whereas those paying Social Security will NOT pay on earned income from the current $102,000 to $250,000. But, once the wage earner goes above $250,000 then the Social Security payments will then (again) come into effect. Yes, I'm sure that if he becomes President and this passes that the millionaires and billionaires will scream bloody murder but...they most surely can afford it. If you feel that this is not fair then maybe you also will have a complaint about the IRS tax tables which also significantly increase with the amount of annual income one has. If one is a millionaire and/or billionaire and (truthfully) reports one's income they will find they are certainly not in the 15% bracket are they? Is this fair? I think so, you probably won't.
I do agree with you when you state that Ms. Bracy(actually me) failed to mention that there is no limit on the income exposed to Medicare taxes. I didn't mention it because it does not have a taxation "cap" (102K) like wages for Social Security taxation do.
You, in another paragraph, state: "Any other money I need to live on after retirement comes from my own savings, which in some years was fractionally matched by my employer." Well, Mr. Lambert, I know of no educators who have a "savings matching" concract issued by their local school boards....can you tell me any that do?
You also go on to say that, you "will leave over $300,000 on the table if I die at age 90. That money will be used to make payments to others who never earned enough to pay for the benefits they will receive." Many educators who die after retirement will also leave some of their monies on the table. That is how it works in a retirement system as well as in the insurance industry as well as public services including police and fire protection. If I die today I will have left some of my STRS contributions with the Ohio STRS. If I am healthy then I will not be able to take advantage of my health insurance...maybe I should ask for a premium refund? If I don't need the services of the police department then maybe I should ask for a tax refund for the tax monies that I paid for police protection? If I don't have the need for a fire truck then maybe I should ask for a tax refund for the tax monies that I paid to the fire department?
In your next to last paragraph (concerning a safety net for senior citizens) you say that you, "don't mind contributing to the cost of a safety net that prevents our senior citizens from suffering in poverty." I find myself in agreement with this statement. However, you then state, "Just please Ms. Bracy (actually me) don't accuse me of not paying my fair share into Social Security - I've paid that and more." Actually, Mr. Lambert, no, you didn't pay "your fair share." You stated, earlier in your article: "I had the good fortune during the latter part of my career to have often hit and exceeded the Social Security limit. Yes, it felt good to get a few paychecks without the Social Security deduction." I'm sure it did were not taxed on the excess of the monies earned on those "good" years.
You say, near the end of your letter: "Did you and your school district pay enough into the STRS to fully fund your comparatively generous retirement benefits? If not, who is supposed to make up the funding shortfall?"
Mr. Lambert, I think you'll agree that healthcare costs have risen sharply during the last decade. Were you aware that of the 14% of monies deducted from the employer (the school system) for every dollar of teacher (and administrator) pay has remained at that same 14% rate since 1984? I'm sure that your healthcare expenses now take up more than the same percentage of your paycheck than they did back in 1984, don't they? House Bill 315 not only asks for an increase in the percentage of employer contribution but also asks for an equal increase in deductions from the employee's paycheck. This is a progressive amount that will "top out" in five years with both the employee and employer paying 0.5% each year and, in 5 years, will amount to 2.5% for the employer and 2.5% for the educator.
In reference to what you mentioned as "generous retirement benefits" above, I have one question. Do you consider paying over $850 per month healthcare premiums ($960 next year) a generous retirement benefit for an 80/20 PPO monthly healthcare premium deducted from many thousands of STRS retirees' monthly retirement check? That's what it now costs to insure myself and my spouse through STRS.
P.S. Your blog entry to which I am replying is listed below my closing. I do wish to compliment you on your grammar, spelling, and sentence can thank your teachers for that, can't you?
John Curry
An STRS benefits recipient
A PROUD member of CORE (Concerned Ohio Retired Educators)
Monday, June 23, 2008
I found Kathie Bracy's blog sometime recently while doing some research. Ms. Bracy is a retired elementary teacher who served in the Columbus Public Schools for 30 years. She is now working in the private sector in addition to collecting STRS retirement benefits. The main focus of her blog is issues of interest to retired teachers, and she says in her profile: "I am working through CORE (Concerned Ohio Retired Educators) to help bring about badly needed reform in our teachers retirement system."
I'm not sure what those reforms are, but perhaps her comments about the Social Security system, in which she now participates, are an indicator:
"Every penny of what I currently earn is taxed by Social Security...that's not to say the same applies to ALL Americans who derive income from non-governmental jobs who ALSO pay into Social Security. THEY DON'T pay tax on every penny they make...were you aware of that? Many Americans stop paying into Social Security after their annual wages exceed $102,000"
Ms. Bracy is forgetting the other half of this deal - Social Security benefits are calculated based on what a worker pays into the system over a lifetime. Therefore people whose premiums have been limited will also have limits applied to their payout.
I had the good fortune during latter part of my career to have often hit and exceeded the Social Security limit. Yes, it felt good to get a few paychecks without the Social Security deduction. By the way, Ms. Bracy failed to mention that there is no limit on the income exposed to Medicare taxes.
According to my last annual statement from the Social Security Administration (SSA), here's what I'm going to get:
If I stop working at age 62 and start drawing benefits, I'll get $1,512 per month - $18,144 per year.
If I wait until age 66 (what SSA now calls my 'full retirement age') I get $2,004 per month, or $24,048/yr.
If I wait until age 70, it would be $2,646/mo, or $31,752/yr. Any other money I need to live on after retirement comes from my own savings, which in some years was fractionally matched by my employer. It's not guaranteed: if I blow it - it's gone. That happened to a lot of people about eight years ago when the Enron/Worldcom/et al debacle wiped out billions of dollars in the 401(k) and IRA accounts of folks who were hoping to retire soon. Many will never to get to retire at all now.
Over my lifetime, I and my employers have paid in total $177,152 into Social Security - about $88,500 each. Using a lifetime investment earnings rate of 4%/yr, I'll never get back the money paid in plus reasonable earnings. By my calculations, regardless of whether I start taking Social Security checks at 62, 66, or 70, I will leave over $300,000 on the table if I die at age 90 (spreadsheet available on request). That money will be used to make payments to others who never earned enough to pay for the benefits they will receive.
That's okay. I don't mind contributing to the cost of a safety net that prevents our senior citizens from suffering in poverty. Just please Ms. Bracy, don't accuse me of not paying my fair share into Social Security - I've paid that and more.
Did you and your school district pay enough into the STRS to fully fund your comparatively generous retirement benefits? If not, who is supposed to make up the funding shortfall?
Me again - along with millions of other Ohio taxpayers. That's what HB315 is all about.
Posted by Paul at 6/23/2008 07:20:00 PM

Sunday, August 24, 2008

CORE president Dave Parshall addresses educators' healthcare to four million radio listeners across the country

From CORE, August 23, 2008
CORE President Dave Parshall attended the live broadcast of the Ed Shultz Progressive Radio Talk Show Friday at the Plumbers & Pipe Fitters Union Local 170 in Columbus. The event was sponsored partially by OEA. Dave was able to talk with Ed before the show aired. Ed had Mary Jo Kilroy, who is running to fell the U.S. House seat once held by Deborah Price, as a guest. Dave talked to May Jo during the show and was able to tell her about CORE and to give her one of his CORE cards with our web address. Dave stepped to the microphone and made the follow comments to May Jo and to the four million listening audience:
"I am Dave Parshall, President of Concerned Ohio Retired Educators and a long time supporter and member of the Ohio Education Association, which is one of the sponsors of this festival today. We all are working together in support of the Health Care Advocates, trying to save health care for retired educators. Ed, the public doesn’t know that teachers don’t automatically receive complete Social Security or Medicare. We are now in danger of losing our health care in our retirement years as the funds are used up. House Bill 315 was introduced to help educators solve their own health care problem. Your listeners might like to know that while lobbying Ohio house members for H.R. 315 some of the right wingers in our State Legislature told me, 'Dave, Social Security, Medicare and middle class entitlements are a thing of the past -- get over it.' I doubt they tell the folks back home what their true beliefs are. We do need a national solution. Our health care system is ranked 18th in the world and is a house of cards. This should be a national disgrace. Mary Jo, do you support a single payer plan for health care? If not, why not?”
Her response was that Universal Care is part of the Democratic platform and that health care needs to be affordable.

Senate Bill S206 (GPO/WEP repeal)...whom should we thank for sponsoring and cosponsoring? One of our two Ohio U.S. Senators is on our side!

From John Curry, August 24, 2008

Yes, this bill is still gathering dust bunnies "on the shelf" in the U.S. was referred to a Senate Committee
on Finance back on Jan. 9, 2007 and is still sitting there gathering dust bunnies. A copy of this email should be forwarded to every public servant (who retires under a state-sponsored retirement system) that you know so that they can see how they have been forgotten and short-changed - not just public school educators but....police officers, firemen, municipal workers, county employees, non-certified school employees, and others too numerous to mention. I'll bet the majority of them aren't even aware of how their Social Security benefits will be reduced because they will be retiring or have retired with a public pension program! If they all started writing their U.S. Senator concerning this bill maybe we could have some movement on this issue. A list of the 37 U.S. Senate sponsors and co-sponsors of this bill follows the bill's general might want to view this list [click here to view list] just to see who stood up for public might just be surprised! If your Senator is not on this list you might want to ask them why they aren't!
On the day this bill was introduced to our U.S. Senate, the two senators below spoke to the Senate and here is what they had to say:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D-CA]: [Introducing S. 206] Mr. President, I rise today with my colleague, Senator COLLINS, to introduce legislation that protects the retirement benefits earned by public employees and eliminates barriers which discourage many Americans from pursuing careers in public service. This bill will repeal two provisions of the Social Security Act--the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision--which unfairly reduce the retirement benefits earned by public employees such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters.
The Government Pension Offset reduces a public employee's Social Security spousal or survivor benefits by an amount equal to two-thirds of his or her public pension.
Take the case of a widowed, retired police officer who receives a public pension of $600 per month. His job in the local police department was not covered by Social Security, yet his wife's private-sector employment was. An amount equal to two-thirds of his public pension, or $400 each month, would be cut from his Social Security survivor benefits. If this individual is eligible for $500 in survivor benefits, the Government Pension Offset provision would reduce his monthly benefits to $100.
In most cases, the Government Pension Offset eliminates the spousal benefit for which an individual qualifies. In fact, 9 out of 10 public employees affected by the Government Pension Offset lose their entire spousal benefit, even though their spouse paid Social Security taxes for many years.
The Windfall Elimination Provision reduces Social Security benefits by up to 50 percent for retirees who have paid into Social Security and also receive a public pension, such as from a teacher retirement fund.
While the reforms that led to the creation of the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision were meant to prevent public employees from being unduly enriched, the practical effect is that those providing critical public services are unjustly penalized.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Pension Offset provision alone reduces earned benefits for more than 300,000 Americans each year, by upwards of $3,600. In some cases, for those living on fixed incomes, this represents the difference between a comfortable retirement and poverty.
Nearly one million Federal, State, and municipal workers, as well as teachers and other school district employees, are unfairly held to a different standard when it comes to retirement benefits.
Private-sector retirees receive monthly Social Security checks equal to 90 percent of their first $656 in average monthly career earnings. However, under the Windfall Elimination Provision, retired public employees are only allowed to receive 40 percent of the first $656 in career monthly earnings, a penalty of over $300 per month.
This unfair reduction in retirement benefits is inequitable. The Social Security Fairness Act will allow government pensioners the chance to receive the same 90 percent of their benefits to which nongovernment pension recipients are entitled.
We must do more to encourage people to pursue careers in public service. Unfortunately, the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision make it more difficult to recruit teachers, police officers, and fire fighters; and, it does so at a time when we should be doing everything we can to recruit the best and brightest to these careers.
California's police force needs to add more than 10,000 new officers by 2014--a growth of nearly 15 percent--while hiring more than 15,000 additional officers to replace those who leave the force.
It is estimated that public schools will need to hire between 2.2 million and 2.7 million new teachers nationwide by 2009 because of record enrollments. The projected retirements of thousands of veteran teachers and critical efforts to reduce class sizes also necessitate hiring additional teachers.
California currently has more than 300,000 teachers but will need to double this number by 2010, to 600,000 teachers, in order to keep up with student enrollment levels.
Most importantly, the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision hinder efforts to recruit new math and science teachers from the private sector. As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, it is imperative that our school children receive the finest math and science education to ensure our Nation's future competitiveness in the global economy.
It is counterintuitive that on the one-hand, policymakers seek to encourage people to change careers and enter the teaching profession, while on the other hand, those wishing to do so are discouraged because they are clearly told that their Social Security retirement benefits will be significantly reduced.
Now that we are witnessing the practical effects of these 20 year old provisions, I hope that Congress will pass legislation to address the unfair reduction of benefits that essentially sends the message that if you do enter public service, your family will suffer and will be unable to receive the full retirement benefits to which they would otherwise be entitled.
I understand that we are facing deficits and repealing the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision will be costly.
I am open to considering all options that move us toward our goal of removing this inequity by allowing individuals to keep the Social Security benefits to which they are entitled while promoting public sector employment.
We should respect, not penalize, our public service employees. I hope that my colleagues will join me in sending this long overdue message to our Nation's public servants, that we value their contributions and support giving all Americans the retirement benefits they have earned and deserve.
I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.
There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
Sen. Susan Collins [R-ME]: Mr. President, I am pleased to join with my colleague from California, Senator FEINSTEIN, in introducing the Social Security Fairness Act. This bill repeals two provisions of current law--the windfall elimination provision (WEP) and the government pension offset (GPO) that unfairly reduce earned Social Security benefits for many public employees when they retire.
Individuals affected by both the GPO and the WEP are those who are eligible for Federal, State or local pensions from work that was not covered by Social Security, but who also qualify for Social Security benefits based on their own work in covered employment or that of their spouses. While the two provisions were intended to equalize Social Security's treatment of workers, we are concerned that they unfairly penalize individuals for holding jobs in public service when the time comes for them to retire.
These two provisions have enormous financial implications not just for Federal employees, but for our teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees as well. Given their important responsibilities, it is unfair to penalize them when it comes to their Social Security benefits. These public servants--or their spouses--have all paid taxes into the Social Security system. So have their employers. Yet, because of these two provisions, they are unable to collect all of the Social Security benefits to which they otherwise would be entitled.
While the GPO and WEP affect public employees and retirees in virtually every State, their impact is most acute in 15 States, including Maine. Nationwide, more than one-third of teachers and education employees, and more than one-fifth of other public employees, are affected by the GPO and/or the WEP.
Almost one million retired government workers across the country have already been adversely affected by these provisions. Many more stand to be affected by them in the future. Moreover, at a time when we should be doing all that we can to attract qualified people to public service, this reduction in Social Security benefits makes it even more difficult for our Federal, State and local governments to recruit and retain the teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public servants who are so critical to the safety and well-being of our families.
The Social Security windfall elimination provision reduces Social Security benefits for retirees who paid into Social Security and who receive a government pension from work not covered under Social Security, such as pensions from the Maine State Retirement Fund. While private sector retirees receive Social Security checks based on 90 percent of their first $656 average monthly career earnings, government pensioners checks are based on 40 percent--a harsh penalty of more than $300 per month.
The government pension offset reduces an individual's survivor benefit under Social Security by two-thirds of the amount of his or her public pension. It is estimated that 9 out of 10 public employees affected by the GPO lose their entire spousal benefit, even though their deceased spouses paid Social Security taxes for many years.
What is most troubling is that this offset is most harsh for those who can least afford the loss--lower-income women. In fact, of those affected by the GPO, 73 percent are women. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the GPO reduces benefits for more than 200,000 of these individuals by more than $3,600 a year--an amount that can make the difference between a comfortable retirement and poverty.
Our teachers and other public employees face difficult enough challenges in their day-to-day work. Individuals who have devoted their lives to public service should not have the added burden of worrying about their retirement. Many Maine teachers, in particular, have talked with me about this issue. They love their jobs and the children they teach, but they worry about the future and about their financial security in retirement.
I hear a lot about this issue in my constituent mail, as well. Patricia Dupont, for example, of Orland, ME, wrote that, because she taught for 15 years under Social Security in New Hampshire, she is living on a retirement income of less than $13,000 after 45 years in education. Since she also lost survivors' benefits from her husband's Social Security, she calculates that a repeal of the WEP and the GPO would double her current retirement income.
These provisions also penalize private sector employees who leave their jobs to become public school teachers. Ruth Wilson, a teacher from Otisfield, ME, wrote:
"I entered the teaching profession two years ago, partly in response to the nationwide pleas for educators. As the current pool of educators near retirement in the next few years, our schools face a crisis. Low wages and long hard hours are not great selling points to young students when selecting a career.
I love teaching and only regretted my decision when I found out about the penalties I will unfairly suffer. In my former life as a well-paid systems manager at State Street Bank in Boston, I contributed the maximum to Social Security each year. When I decided to become an educator, I figured that because of my many years of maximum Social Security contributions, I would still have a livable retirement `wage.' I was unaware that I would be penalized as an educator in your State."
In September of 2003, I chaired a Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to examine the effect that the GPO and the WEP have had on public employees and retirees. We heard compelling testimony from Julia Worcester of Columbia, ME--who was then 73. Mrs. Worcester told the Committee about her work in both Social Security-covered employment and as a Maine teacher, and about the effect that the GPO and WEP have had on her income in retirement. Mrs. Worcester worked for more than 20 years as a waitress and in factory jobs before deciding, at the age of 49, to go back to school to pursue her life-long dream of becoming a teacher. She began teaching at the age of 52 and taught full-time for 15 years before retiring at the age of 68. Since she was only in the Maine State Retirement System for 15 years, Mrs. Worcester does not receive a full State
After a lifetime of hard work, Mrs. Worcester, is still substitute teaching just to make ends meet. This simply is not fair. I am therefore pleased to join Senator FEINSTEIN in introducing this legislation to repeal these two unfair provisions, and I urge my colleagues to join us as cosponsors.
Quick Info: S. 206: Social Security Fairness Act of 2007 Last Action: Read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance. Status: Introduced
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
web page counter
Vermont Teddy Bear Company