Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mario explains our COLA

From Mario Iacone, March 31, 2012
If you RECEIVE a $40,000 BENEFIT, your COLA for 2012 is $1,200 or 3% of $40,000.
The 2012 COLA PAYMENT of $1,200 WILL ACCUMULATE TO $24,000 (20x1200).

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More on the one year COLA suspension scenario
From Kathie Bracy, April 1, 2012
I asked Mario for a more detailed explanation of how a one year suspension of our COLA would affect us (retirees), and here is his response:
From Mario Iacone, April 1, 2012
If you lose your 2013 COLA, you never get it back. The following year you are getting your 2014 COLA.
For example, say you are getting $40,000 and you would go to 41,000 with this year's COLA.
This year's COLA is suspended so you stay at 40,000 instead of going to 41,000 with the COLA.
The next year, you get the 2014 COLA and go to 41,000, but if you had received the 2013 COLA the previous year, you would be getting $42,000.
So each year you would be getting $1,000 less because the COLA was suspended in 2013.
Figures are rounded of for ease of explanation. COLA on $40,000 would actually be $1,200.

RH Jones: NEA-R deserves our support

From RH Jones, March 30, 2012
To all retired teachers:
Re: NEA-R deserves our support
Please take the time out of your busy day to read the 3-pages of the This Active Life, NEAtoday, the magazine for NEA-Retired Members, March 2012, issue below []. The very last article at the bottom is a very powerful writing: Getting and Staying Active (and Activist) by the NEA-Retired President, Tom Curran [].
I think you will be inspired. After reading the 3-pages, I came to the conclusion that OEA-R will be as inspired as I, to move forward the efforts to turn around the threats to cut, and gut, our Ohio retired teachers' pension.
There are also some wonderful web sites mentioned that will be of great importance to you. Please, if you are not a NEA-R member, join. It is in all of our best interests.
In solidarity,
RHJones, retired Ohio teacher and proud CORE member
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Rules to Live by in an Election Year
The editors of This Active Life posed the following question to Retired Members: What activities, large or small, will you undertake this election year to promote and support public education? Alan Holland of Salem, Oregon, sent in the following response.
I will again do for this election cycle what I have done since retiring 10 years ago:
• I will read up on issues so I can vote and talk to acquaintances intelligently.
I will meet candidates, discuss their positions on education, share my views, and urge their support.
I will support pro-public education issues and candidates with donations and register voters, canvass, work phone banks, and volunteer to strategically place and deliver signs where requested.
I will remain active as a precinct committee person with my political party, seeking to influence candidates and others for the common good and betterment of public education,
I will share my enthusiasm and live with pride for my contribution to the lives of thousands as a public school teacher.
I will personally thank teachers and school board members I meet for their contributions to public schools,
I will not let disparaging remarks about public schools or teachers pass without a positive, informed response.
Finally, I will strive to remain positive and pleasant in my relations as I work in the activities listed above.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

From John Curry, March 28, 2012
March 27, 2012
I Blame Teachers for Everything
SOMETIMES, I READ what critics say about American education and feel myself spiraling downward into a deep depression. Just look at all the evidence of our failing schools! The best proof yet: the idiot analysis that seems to pass without questioning.
That's right. I blame schools for failing to teach basic logic and reasoning to journalists; and I blame schools when readers are too dense to notice.
Consider this recent headline in the New York Times:
I read that, and before I can even start the story, I mumble, "Holy @$#%!"
What's wrong with this particularly stupid article? To begin with, the report is issued by a panel led by former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice and Joel I. Klein, longtime chancellor of the New York City public schools.
If you're like me, you're kind of taken aback from the very start. I was a humble history teacher in 2003. I don't remember leading the charge into Iraq that spring. I never said Iraqis had stockpiles of chemical weapons. I never spooked the country with talk about Iraqi nuclear weapons and atomic clouds. Nope, if there are threats to our national security today, that might be on you, Ms. Rice, and your buddies in the Bush administration.
What about Mr. Klein? Why does this particular millionaire lawyer make me grit my teeth? I think it's because he never taught a day in his entire life. So asking his opinions about education is like asking me what it's like to serve in combat. True: I spent two years in the Marines during the Vietnam War. But I did my "tour of duty" behind a clerk's desk in California.
So I'd be ashamed to brag around combat veterans about what I would have done if I had been in battle in their places.
Sadly, Klein and his type have no such shame. Or, as Shakespeare put it once so aptly "he hath a killing tongue and a quiet sword."
WELL THEN, how are schools' failings destroying this great nation? Simple enough: 75% of young adults no longer qualify to serve in the military because they are physically unfit, due to criminal records, or because education levels are inadequate.
Read that sentence carefully, though, and see if it still makes any sense. The United States leads the world in rates of incarcerations--and now crime is the fault of schools? And fat kids? Maybe they're following the diet lead of all fat parents, after all.
[Click image to enlarge.]
Sometimes, statistics outlining broad trends, be they declining SAT
scores or rising obesity rates
, don't actually reveal entire truths. America is a changing nation and a wide array of negative changes outside of schools are reflected in the hallways every single day.
Consider, for example, our current obesity epidemic. In 1986, less than 10% of adults in states like Ohio and Alabama were obese and only seven states had rates above 10%, none more than 14%. (Twenty-five states didn't even bother to keep tracking data.)
Unfortunately, the late 80s were good years for Twinkies, if not for teachers. By 1990, states were taking note. Only six now failed to track obesity and only ten had rates below 10%. In 1991, for the first time, four states reported adult obesity rates of 15% or more.
It wasn't until 1994 that the last holdout, Wyoming, began tracking problems; and by then it was clear the 90s weren't going to be any better on the diet front. Now, sixteen states had obesity rates of 15-19%. Three more years of Coca-Cola-drinking and Frito-chomping, and the first states crossed the 20% obesity threshold: Mississippi, Indiana and Kentucky.
By 2001 calories were catching up to everyone: Mississippi passed the 25% mark. In 2004, nine states had passed the 25% mark. In 2005, another milestone was passed: Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia reaching the 30% level. By 2009, nine states had reached the 30% adult obesity rate and only one remained below 20%: Colorado.
Another twelve months--another season of Halloween candy and a forty-fifth round of Super Bowl parties, and every state had passed the 20% mark. In fact, a dozen states now topped out at 30% or more--led by Mississippi (34%), West Virginia (32.5), Alabama (32.2), South Carolina (31.5), Louisiana (31) and Texas (31).
SO WHAT DO WE KNOW when we read stories like this? You can blame schools if you want. I've been know to pack on the pounds, myself. But I don't recall ever seeing a teacher standing in the candy aisle at Krogers ordering shoppers to grab another bag of Twix.
It's the same if too many kids have criminal records. Why don't we blame crappy police--and lawyers, and, yeah, that's you, Mr. Klein, too--and judges?
That doesn't make a bit of sense, but neither does most of what passes for reasoned criticism of American education today.

John Viall is a retired teacher, having taught 33 years in the Loveland (OH) City Schools.
Click image to enlarge.

Retiree to STRS Board re: COLA

Carol Janes to STRS Board, March 28, 2012
Subject: COLA

I read the March newsletter with great interest.

As I understand it STRS is making no provision to protect those of us who are older retirees and have the lowest incomes...and if we are still under 65 we have much higher health care say nothing of the cost of living.

Those teachers who have retired recently have higher salaries and will retire with better pensions. Some have taken advantage of the 35 yr 88% incentive which has played a role in "bleeding" the system dry.

I see that some states are protecting those who cannot change their economic situation. I am sure I am not alone in not being able to get a job. I am 63, live in a small town and have knee and shoulder problems which keep me from stocking shelves at Wal-Mart...otherwise I would do it.

It is true that active teachers are being asked to make great sacrifices, but those who are young have time to make changes. Those who have retired recently or are about to retire have larger pensions. It is those of us over 60 who are in trouble.

Carol Janes
Middlefield, OH

STRS asset value as of February 29, 2012

From Mario Iacone, March 28, 2012

CURRENT ASSET VALUE as of 2/29/2012
..........65 Billion
..........63.5 Billion
..........approx 80 Billion
LOW ASSET VALUE...early 2009
..........approx 47 Billion
..........approx 66.2 Billion
approx 15 Billion BELOW 2007 HIGH and
approx 18 Billion ABOVE 2009 LOW

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

'Hands off my health care! It’s not my problem if your insurance company dumps you when you get sick!'

From John Curry, March 27, 2012
....with just a few more words we can make those simple-minded "slogans" (created by simple-minded people) complete AND ACCURATE......
“Hands off my health care! Granny doesn’t need her meds all year anyway!”
“Hands off my health care! My 24-year-old daughter can just stay uninsured!"
“Hands off my health care! If I lose my coverage because I lose my job, so be it!”
“Hands off my health care! It’s not my problem if your insurance company dumps you when you get sick!”
I especially like the last comes from the mouths of those who have the philosophy, "I got mine and the hell with you!" I wonder what happens when they meet up with a life altering's different then, isn't it? I'll bet you know at least one of these selfish people, don't you?
Slogans Versus Substance in the Battle Over ObamaCare’s Future
By Wendell Potter
March 27, 2012
Cries of ‘Hands off my health care’ mask the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.
Hands off my health care!
Remember those words from the health care reform debate of two years ago? I’m confident we’ll be seeing them on protest signs in Washington again this week as the Supreme Court hears arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. And we’ll see them again when the protest campaigns shift into high gear this summer.
One of the rules of effective communications is to keep it simple. In attacking something you don’t like, use as few words as possible, and make sure those words pack an emotional wallop. That’s why lies about “death panels” and a “government takeover” of health care have been so potent. Unfortunately for those advocating reform, it’s far more challenging to explain and defend a law as complicated as the Affordable Care Act.
Maybe, then, supporters of the law should co-opt the “hands off” slogan and make it their own. That would require adding just a few more words here and there to make clear what would be lost if the law is repealed, gutted or declared unconstitutional.
Here’s are some suggestions:
“Hands off my health care! Granny doesn’t need her meds all year anyway!”
The Affordable Care Act is closing the despised and even deadly “doughnut hole” in the Medicare prescription drug program, which was designed in 2003 largely by lobbyists for insurance and pharmaceutical companies who were more interested in protecting their companies’ profits than helping seniors stay alive. The way the law was cobbled together, Medicare beneficiaries get prescription drug coverage only up to a certain amount. When they reach that limit, they fall into the “doughnut hole” and have to pay about $4,000 out of their own pockets for their prescriptions before coverage resumes. As a consequence, many people stop taking their medications because they don’t have the money to pay for them. And many of them die. The Affordable Care Act has already shrunk that gap and will close it completely in 2020.
“Hands off my health care! Who cares if insurers refuse to cover sick kids?”
Before the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies routinely refused to insure children who were born with disabilities or who developed life-threatening illnesses like diabetes or cancer. It was perfectly legal for them to refuse to sell coverage to anyone — even children— who had what insurers call a “pre-existing condition.” The reform law already requires insurers to cover all kids, regardless of health status. It will apply to the rest of us in 2014.
“Hands off my health care! My 24-year-old daughter can just stay uninsured!”
Insurers have long had a policy of kicking young adults off their parents’ policies when they turn 23. Many of these young folks don’t have the money to buy coverage on their own—and a lot of them can’t buy it at all because of, you guessed it, pre-existing conditions. That’s why young people comprise the biggest segment of the uninsured population. Because the Affordable Care Act allows parents to keep dependents on their policies until they turn 26, an estimated 2.5 million young people had become insured again as of the end of last year.
“Hands off my health care! If I lose my coverage because I lose my job, so be it!”
Millions of Americans fall into the ranks of the uninsured every year when they get laid off. That’s one reason the number of people without coverage swelled to 50 million during the recession. Many of them can’t afford to buy insurance on their own and many of them have—you guessed right again—pre-existing conditions and can’t buy it at any price. Starting in 2014, not only will the Affordable Care Act prohibit insurers from refusing to sell coverage to people of any age because of their medical history, it will also provide subsidies to low-income individuals and families to help them buy insurance.
“Hands off my health care! It’s not my problem if your insurance company dumps you when you get sick!”
To avoid paying claims, insurers for years have cancelled the coverage of policyholders when they got sick. A former nurse in Texas testified before Congress in 2009 about getting a cancellation notice from her insurer the day before she was to have a mastectomy because she had failed to note on her application for coverage that she had been treated for acne. The Affordable Care Act makes it illegal for insurers to cancel policies for any reason other than fraud or failure to pay premiums.
“Hands off my health care!” Maybe we ought to think that through a little bit more before we take to the streets with those words on our placards. Insurers who profited from the way things used to be will laugh all the way to the bank if you start waving those signs, but you and people you love might live to regret it. On the plus side, at least for the special interests, you probably won’t live as long.
Wendell is a Senior Analyst at the Center for Public Integrity where this first appeared on 3/26/12.
Click image to enlarge.

Report on March 2012 STRS Board Meeting

From STRS, March 26, 2012
March Board News
Retirement Board Reviews Pension Reform Plan Design Changes
As previously reported in Board News, the pension reform proposal passed by the State Teachers Retirement Board in January 2011 no longer meets the 30-year funding period required by the Ohio Legislature. At its March 22, 2012, meeting, the Retirement Board discussed various revisions to the current proposal, aimed at reaching the 30-year amortization goal.
Earlier this month STRS Ohio staff presented several scenarios to reduce the system's liabilities and funding period. The Retirement Board asked for further study — including a potential cap on the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) that is paid in retirement, and/or a one-year COLA suspension. Staff was also asked to consider ways to smooth the transition to new retirement eligibility rules that will include a longer teaching career and an age requirement to qualify for retirement.
All of the plan design scenarios reviewed at the March 22 meeting that meet the 30-year funding requirement include changes to the COLA beyond the reduction to 2% that is contained in the January 2011 board proposal. Among the plan design changes the board has considered, the COLA has by far the greatest financial impact because it not only affects current retirees, but also future retirees. Additional considerations include member contribution phase-in, age and service eligibility and giving the board authority to adjust plan design in the future.
The board directed staff to continue modeling plan design changes for review at the April board meeting and to meet with the Healthcare and Pension Advocates for STRS (HPA), a group representing various constituent groups with interest in STRS Ohio, to provide feedback on the board's plan design alternatives that were discussed. Earlier this year, Ohio Senate leaders told STRS Ohio that any legislative action on pension reform would require broad constituent support.
Staff Uses Member Survey Results to Develop Proposal for Changes to the STRS Ohio Health Care Program for 2013
Member Benefits staff presented the Retirement Board with recommendations for several changes for the STRS Ohio Health Care Program in 2013 that are responsive to member and retiree input received in the December 2011 annual member survey. In the survey, members and retirees were asked to consider and rate several changes that could be implemented to extend the life of the Health Care Stabilization Fund. Among the top responses rated as having the "most merit" by both active members and retirees were: increasing retirees' premiums, deductibles, copayments or coinsurance; and active members working longer before being eligible for health care.
In December 2011, the Retirement Board approved a strategic framework to guide the development of a long-term strategic plan for the STRS Ohio Health Care Program. A key element of that framework is to extend the projected solvency of the program to 65 or more years by 2025. The projected savings from the changes outlined below would make significant progress toward that goal.
With the member survey and board's strategic framework in mind, staff recommended the following changes for plan year 2013 and asked the board to vote on these items at its April meeting:
Reducing the subsidy multiplier by 0.1%, to 2.3% per year of service — a retiree with 30 years or more of service would receive a subsidy in 2013 of 69% of the total cost of the plan. The 2012 subsidy for a retiree with 30 years of service is 72%.
Increasing annual non-Medicare deductible and out-of-pocket limits — would set new amounts for the Medical Mutual Basic Plan, the Medical Mutual Plus Plan and the STRS Ohio Prescription Drug Program:
Basic Plan deductible would increase to $1,750 from $1,500, and the out-of-pocket maximum would increase to $2,900 from $2,500.
Plus Plan deductible would increase to $1,000 from $500, and the out-of-pocket maximum would increase to $2,100 from $1,500.
Prescription Drug Program deductible and out-of-pocket maximum would be indexed to standard Medicare coverage levels.
Increasing physician copayments under the Aetna Medicare Plan (PPO) — would increase physician office copayment to $20 from $15 and would implement a $40 out-of-network physician copayment in Ohio.
Adding urgent care and emergency room copayment per occurrence to the Basic and Plus Plans — $35 for urgent care and $50 for emergency room copayment per occurrence, then subject to deductible and coinsurance (emergency room copayments waived if admitted). This is consistent with the Aetna Medicare Plan (PPO).
Combining Tier 3 and Tier 4 drugs as non-preferred brand-name drugs with 100% coinsurance. In addition, 120 drugs would move to Tier 3 from Tier 2. This change would encourage the use of generic drugs.
Revising proton pump inhibitor (PPI) program — would discontinue the $5 over-the-counter (OTC) Prilosec program due to the increase in availability of generics and would cover generics/OTC drugs at standard copayment levels.
Moving the non-Medicare enrollees to a narrower retail pharmacy network beginning June 1, 2012 — this would impact fewer than 250 enrollees who would need to change their pharmacy.
The recommended plan changes are projected to save about $31 million annually.
Pension Trustee Advisors updates ORSC, Meets with STRS Ohio
On March 14, Flick Fornia of Pension Trustee Advisors (PTA), made a presentation on pension reform to the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) that largely supported defined benefit plans. At the ORSC's request, PTA is conducting a review of the pension reform plans that the five Ohio retirement systems have proposed. In his presentation to the Council, Fornia covered general issues, rather than items specific to any one system's plan.
Fornia provided case studies of plan designs from systems in other states along with steps some of those systems took to improve solvency. He said that Ohio's retirement eligibility rules and the typical benefit with 30 years of service are consistent with other states that don't participate in Social Security. Fornia told the Council that the defined benefit model is the predominant model among the typical statewide systems. He cited economic efficiency, the ability to better manage longevity risk, the effectiveness of portfolio diversification and the strength of professional asset management as advantages of defined benefit plans. Disadvantages included the chance that large unfunded liabilities can occur and that often times, the employer is responsible for additional contributions necessary to meet the pension promise.
Fornia later met with STRS Ohio staff to ask more in-depth questions about the board's proposed pension reform plan. Members of the senior management team provided answers and will continue to research any outstanding questions. PTA is expected to complete its study of the pension systems and provide a report to the ORSC in June or July.
Tim Myers Unopposed for Retirement Board Election
In 2008, Tim Myers was elected to a contributing member seat on the Retirement Board with a term that runs through Aug. 31, 2012. Myers was the only STRS Ohio contributing member to file enough completed petitions for the 2012 election for this seat by the deadline of Feb. 24, 2012. Therefore, according to Ohio statute, no election needs to be held since he is unopposed and he will continue in this seat through Aug. 31, 2016. Myers currently provides computer training for middle school students at Elida Local Schools.
Retirements Approved
The Retirement Board approved 218 active members and 126 inactive members for retirement.
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