Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Podesta's BP Lobbying Blowout

Tony Podesta's BP lobbying revenues rose to $150,000 in the third quarter.  The Podesta Group passed Ken Duberstein's firm, which took in $100,000. 

BP America spent $1.86 million on lobbying in the third quarter.  One issue related to BP's purchase of Azerbaijan energy assets, Caspian Sea gas.

Support the development and export of Caspian gas into European markets.  BP lobbied the Natl Security Council (NSC), State - Dept of (DOS), U.S. SENATE

This sole buy occurred in the midst of massive asset sales.  How will Uncle Sam help BP develop and export Caspian gas to Europe?

BP latest monetization came in Argentina.  China is the beneficiary.

Monday, November 29, 2010

San Angelo's ERRP App

San Angelo's Early Retiree Reimbursement Program application states the intended use of federal funds:

Reimbursement through ERRP will allow the City "to continue to provide the same quality of care without passing on additional costs to its participants."

This flies in the face of the City's plans to pass 100% of health insurance cost increases to employees and early retirees for 2011.  While citing "no new money," the city will effectively bank 80% of ERRP reimbursement.

The full ERRP application is below, for those interested:

PIR - APrest                                                            

City Council plans to act on this item December 7.  Anyone wanting to impact this decision should contact their City Council representative ASAP.

Thanks to San Angelo's Public Information Officer Ty Meighan for this document.

Update 11-29-10:  Section E1 is missing from the above document.  It's not clear if the City failed to fill it out or if something got lost along the way.  I sent a follow-up e-mail to Ty, requesting this portion of the application

E. *Intended Use of Early Retiree Reinsurance Program Reimbursements

1) Please summarize how your organization will use the reimbursement under the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program to reduce health benefit or health benefit premium costs for the sponsor of the employment-based plan (i.e., to offset increases in such costs); reduce premium contributions, copayments, deductibles, coinsurance, or other out-of-pocket costs (or combination of these) for plan participants; or reduce a combination of any of these costs (whether offsetting increases in sponsor costs or offsetting or reducing plan participants’ costs). If necessary to provide a complete response, the sponsor may submit additional pages as an attachment to the application. Please reference such attachment in this space.

Update 1-12-11:  HHS responded to my FOI request.  They received the City's application on July 14, 2010.  The City stated in response to the above E.1 request:

The City of San Angelo is self-insured for health coverage.  Early Retiree Reinsurance Program Reimbursement proceeds will be deposited in a dedicated account for insurance funds.  These funds will then be used to offset increases in premium contributions and increases in participant costs.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Chertoff's Ethical Irritability

The Honorable Michael Chertoff spoke to students and faculty at the University of Southern California's CREATE Homeland Security Center.  CREATE stands for Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events.  It has 24 partners, 22 in the U.S.

Chertoff's remarked on emerging security challenges, based on three trends:

1.  Globalization--including travel, trade, finance and communications
2.  Weapons of mass destruction terrorist capability--formerly available to nation states
3.  Ungoverned space--physical territory like Somalia, tribal areas of Pakistan (not financial shadow bankers, deadly Chinese manufacturers or U.S. political corruption)

He believes terrorists are the same threat as former nation state enemies.  The central threat to America comes from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.  Chertoff believes Pakistan's nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of Islamic radicals and a nuclear Iran would use its capabilities or near capabilities for geopolitical leverage.  He noted they willingly armed terrorist groups in Iraq and sees Iran proliferating nuclear material for terrorist use

Chertoff superficially addressed the cargo bombs emanating from Yemen.  He noted planes were the target, not the physical address on the package.  However, he implied that cargo and passenger planes were totally separate, which missed the fact that cargo frequently flies on passenger jets. Why did Chertoff gloss over something he knows deeply about?  Chertoff Group's Jayson Ahern later filled the gap.

Other threats include Venezuela's Huge Chavez, Ecuador's Evo Morales and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega.  Add Mexican drug cartels, international crime organizations (like FARC) and cyberthreats. While Chertoff charged hard on FARC, he went light on FARC funder, Chiquita Banana.

Michael Chetoff's other hats include white collar crime defense.  He helped Columbia/HCA navigate civil and criminal investigations for fraudulent billing.  Chertoff's work enabled Columbia/HCA CEO Rick Scott to win the Florida governorship in the last election.

Chertoff holds board positions in homeland security contractors, Clear and BAE Systems.   Clear is rejuvenating a subscription service that allows people to jump to the head of airport security lines by submitting to a fingerprint or iris scan.  BAE offers face and iris recognition that works on people on the move. At CREATE, Chertoff noted there are better ways to clear people.

On the need for body scanning, which he pushed in 2005, he said:

"They (terrorists) are counting on the reluctance of people, when they do a search, to really get into those private areas of the body."

Nearly a decade of TSA and how many bombs have they found via screening?  Micheal Chertoff cited one and he clarified that as "bomb components."

Micheal Chertoff declared his conflicts of interest at CREATE.

"Also, so the cynics don't get wound up, my firm has, over time, you know, represented people, advised people in the area of scanning and every other kind of security device you can imagine.  So, you have that disclosure."
The Honorable Michael Chertoff failed to disclose his personal conflicts of interest.  Board slots usually come with salary and equity positions.  Chertoff did not say he held stock in or was paid by Clear, BAE Systems or other homeland security contractor, current or hopeful.  The Chertoff Group had an agreement with BioNeutral, which included equity compensation.  Chertoff Group terminated the agreement in June 2010.

At CREATE, Chertoff lamented "political irritability" and a "poisonous political atmosphere."  He stated he would rise above the din, yet offered a condescending rant which declared no specific conflicts of interest.

Chertoff stated that airline cargo and port containers didn't need 100% inspection, but could be sampled based on risk criteria, i.e. profiling.  Why does that work for shipping but not for people?  He didn't say.

Chertoff suggested providing liability protections for those undertaking risk management.  How might Chertoff Group clients benefit from dumping lawsuit risk?

While Micheal Chertoff has the right to silence on his specific conflicts of interest, citizens have the right to be groped, but not to sue for molestation.

To see the depths of Chertoff's pathology, read his op-ed on Katrina, where over 1,800 American lives were lost.  Michael speaks of Lessons Learned.  Neither he nor Frances Townsend ever answered my longstanding questions regarding the abysmal response or incompetent investigative report.  From my chair, Chertoff lives in ungoverned space, where the powerful protect their own.

Friday, November 26, 2010

For BP Time Was Money

Obama's Oil Spew Commission posted a slide with eight moves BP made to save time at the Macondo well.  Network World reported:

The project had been running late. While the site was not fully functional it was still reportedly costing nearly £1 million every day to operate. 
 The time is money slide sits in opposition to Fred Barlit's comments. 

Time = money
Money > safety
"Who cares, it's done, end of story, we'll probably be fine".  Not...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

From Katrina to Naked Body Scanners

Former Bush Homeland Security experts Michael Chertoff and Frances Townsend botched the White House response to Hurricane Katrina and follow up Lessons Learned report.  This disastrous duo currently defends naked body scanners and/or genital manipulation for air travelers.  WaPo noted Chertoff's conflict of interest in pushing scanners, as his firm worked for one manufacturer, Rapiscan, a division of OSI Systems.

Fran defended enhanced pat downs and scanners on CNN.  Defending the horrific is Townsend's specialty, evidenced by her Katrina "investigation.".

Back at the White House, the job of monitoring the storm was left to Kenneth Rapuano, Townsend's deputy.
Fran's White House Lessons Learned report was a whitewash.  The public rightly wrote off George W. Bush for his abysmal Katrina response.  However, disgust turned to anger with the September 2008 financial crisis.

President Obama is on a similar trajectory.  The BP Oil Spew is his Katrina.  Oddly, Obama related it to the financial crisis on The Today Show.  It remains to be seen if TSA pornography/genital manipulation rises to that level of citizen outrage.

People who write negatively about or actively protest TSA practices are "domestic extremists."  Recall, that Defense Department technology is eventually used domestically.  What else do Michael Chertoff, Fran Townsend and Rapiscan have in store for citizens trying to hold onto their privacy and dignity?

Rapiscan Systems is a leading supplier of security inspection solutions utilizing X-ray and gamma-ray imaging, and advanced threat identification techniques such as neutron and diffraction analysis. The company's products are sold into four market segments; Baggage and Parcel Inspection, Cargo and Vehicle Inspection, Hold Baggage Screening and People Screening

Flagship products include:

Rapiscan Eagle C02 – performs safe and effective inspection (less than five seconds) of occupied vehicles at sites such as border crossings and facility entrances.

Rapiscan Secure 1000 – built upon the most widely deployed people screening technology, it is easy to use with a durable, modular design for fast set-up and tear-down in one hour or less. The system is ideal for high security environments because both organic (i.e. solid and liquid explosives, narcotics, ceramic weapons) and inorganic (i.e. metal) materials are apparent in the image.

Rapiscan MobileCheck – a complete checkpoint that integrates people screening and hand luggage screening in a single easily relocated, rugged ISO container.

Metor 300 Portable – is a reliable, durable and versatile security solution for both temporary and permanent security checkpoints. With enhanced discrimination features, it is well suited for the security screening of large groups of people and ideal for outdoor use.

It's harder to follow the money, when firms don't register as lobbyists.  As for declaring conflicts of interest, that's so passe.  The next phase of Airport Security, buying verified ID chips, also points back to Katrina.

What will they do for us next?  Not much, unless you need White Collar Defense or Corporate Risk Management.  Chertoff got Columbia/HCA's Rick Scott off on criminal charges, setting up Scott's Florida Governorship.

Michael Chertoff isn't watching the common man's back, not in the least.  If Fran ever needs help for her Katrina malpractice, Chertoff is the man to call.

Update 3-27-11:  I recently served my civic duty, spending the day as potential juror.  The case involved sexual assault.  The prosecutor said any unwanted touching of the genitals, even over clothing, constituted a felony.

Update 5-3-11:  Will the shooting death of Osama bin Laden end the molestation of Americans in airports?  Apparently not.  That's one story, that unfortunately, won't change.

Update 5-6-11:  Fran Townsend effusively praised President Obama.  Did she pave the way for a possible appointment?  Fran also said, "The war is by no means over."  Rapiscan.

Update 5-24-11:  The Texas Legislature almost held federal officials accountable for unwanted touching of citizens' genitals.  Radio host Alex Jones raised Cain after the Texas Senate backed down.

Update 5-25-11:  Carlyle Group affiliate ARINC stands to make money from the travel security mess via its CrewPASSM Screening Solution.  Recall many federal officials and elected leaders get to bypass TSA screening.

Update 6-29-11:  After being radiated by TSA workers at risk of cancer, passengers can go through Carlyle Group self boarding gates.  It's not clear what exception Fed Chief Ben "Bypass" Bernanke will get at the gate.  Maybe, he'll get a personal escort, but not the Dominique Strauss-Kahn kind.

One Single Isolated Incident

Senior administration officials hit Capital Hill to explain enhanced security measures, including naked body scanners and genital manipulating pat downs.  CNN reported:

"I feel bad for the girl they put in front of 50 people when they were doing a pat down," said one Republican senate staff member about the female TSA employee who was part of the demonstration, reflecting the concerns of many passengers about being touched in their private areas by security agents.

A Congressional staffer noted the public's focus on one single isolated incident. :

For all the things they are trying to do to get the word out, one single isolated incident gets a lot more press than all the efforts they're trying to do.

The staffer didn't elaborate on the single incident, of which there have been many.  So far, there's only one underwear bomber.  In that single isolated incident, his parents notified authorities of their son's terrorist status.

Note:  No Congressional staffer experienced an enhanced pat down.   Did any publicly object?  If so, we might have a domestic extremist in the U.S. Capital.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Leadership by Example on Enhanced Pat Downs

I've yet to hear a elected official, government representative or expert say they've experienced "enhanced pat downs" citizens are getting in America's airports.  Those yet to be molested (or to share their experience of having their genitals fondled) include:

President Barack Obama
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Frances Townsend
Michael Chertoff

I believe citizens traveling for Thanksgiving are on a pilgrimage, one as dignified as work performed in the U.S. Capital Building.  Therefore, I ask that C-SPAN show every member of Congress going through an enhanced pat down.  After TSA molests members of Congress, it can head over to the White House.  Leadership by example, it'd be a nice change. Tell the Obama girls they can keep their shirt on.

Update 11-23-10  Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) said he experienced the enhanced pat down and was crotch grabbed.  Instead of knee implants, Paul should carry a diplomatic pouch.  Those don't get fondled.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

December Wind Unkind to City Retirees

Nearly one year ago, San Angelo's City Council discussed wellness initiatives and employee/retiree health insurance.  These topics were reflected in the December 1, 2009 minutes.

Wellness initiatives relate to the CareHere LLC proposal to operate the employee health clinic.  City staff cited the health risk assessment as a key reason for recommending CareHere.  One year ago, HR Manager Lisa Marley reviewed "how the clinic could be used to promote wellness initiatives."

Mr. Dominguez disclosed as staff develops the wellness initiative, it is highly likely that the City may move towards rates based on wellness initiatives. Therefore, rates would be based on the health and condition of the employee. Mr. Dominguez provided an example how a reinsurance provider may set a higher stop loss amount on an individual, increasing the City’s liability for that particular employee from $150K to $250K based on claims experience.

The second relates to health insurance and any baseline number.  Mayor Alvin New and City staff said on November 16, 2010 they can't spend a penny more than $6.4 million.  Last December:

Mr. Dane informed the City’s budget for the self insurance health fund is $7.2M and the retiree portion of that amount is $1.5M.  

Mayor New noted the city's good experience under the health plans at the recent Council meeting.

2011 budget (city portion)--  $6.4 million  
Additional employee/early retiree portion-- $1 million
2011 budget total-- $7.4 million
What accounts for the $800,000 difference?  That wasn't addressed at the recent meeting.  Last year, the City tried to pass $800,000 in costs to retirees and permanently cap the City's contribution at a fixed amount.

Mr. Dominguez noted the proposed plan would take three years to recoup related expenditures under the proposed benefit. By adoption of this plan, he informed changes will cover the self-insurance fund $680K shortfall and add an additional $289K to stabilize the fund balance. He advised by freezing the Per Employee (or retiree) Per Month rate (PEPM) at $332.22, any future increases would be covered by the retiree.

What Council declined in 2009, Mayor New and City Manager Harold Dominguez operationalized in 2010.  Albeit, Dominguez found money to help with health insurance increases (August 3, 2010 minutes):

City Manager Harold Dominguez explained the $318K health insurance proposed amount would allow the City to buy down the employee’s contribution amount, thereby keeping increases as low as possible.
A "no new money" wind blew into Council Chambers on health insurance.  It echoed hollow, given the City's acceptance into the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program (ERRP).  City Consultants, using the same claims experience cited by City Manager Dominguez, project $650,000 in reimbursement for early retiree claims from June 1, 2010 to May 31, 2012.

ERRP funds associated with 2010-2011 total $515,000.  That money can be applied toward the $1 million shortfall.  Keeping insurance coverage affordable for early retirees is the aim of the federal program.  ERRP arrived at the wrong time for City leaders, intent on implementing long range plans.  That's why leaders stammered and stuttered when challenged by Retired Police Chief Russell Smith.

City leaders plan to bank ERRP funds for 19 months before using any savings to offset their portion of increases.  That may be the only clear thing in this turbid issue.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

San Angelo's ERRP Bank

The City of San Angelo's estimated Early Retiree Reimbursement Program Savings are pictured below.  They cover a two year period, June 1, 2010 to May 31, 2012.   Data comes from several sources, city officials and national benefit consultants.

Holmes-Murphy (San Angelo City HR data)
Low --  $193,836
Expected  --  $653,404
High --  $805,819

Hewitt Associates (national projections)
25% of early retiree plan --  $841,935
$3,000 per retiree @250 under 65 retirees --  $750,000
The five projections can be seen in the blue bars.  The City will bank 80% of ERRP funds before sharing any savings with early retirees or employees.  This is represented by the red bars.

There is "new money," contrary to Mayor New's assertion. The City is choosing not to use it until 2012.

San Angelo's Square Dance with Early Retirees

In the last City Council meeting, Mayor Alvin New choreographed his health insurance moves.  New said he wanted to recombine the City's two health insurance plans, one for current employees and the other for early retirees.  GoSanAngelo reported:
A a year ago ..., when the council voted to split retirees and employees into two separate insurance pools to help the city comply with a federal law. That split resulted in higher insurance premiums for retirees this year.

Retirees face a second year of premium increases under the proposal.  It's not clear from the public presentation how much of the $1 million increase comes from the employee vs, early retiree side.

On August 31, 2010 the City learned of its acceptance in the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program.  Consultants project ERRP reimbursement of $650,000 over a two year period.  ERRP.gov speaks to the issue:

Q.  Can retiree-only plans participate in the ERRP?
A.  Yes. The Affordable Care Act does not prohibit retiree-only plans from participating in the ERRP, provided the employment-based plan and its sponsor satisfy all applicable requirements.
The City's having two plans could be a constraint under ERRP.  Guidance states:
(F)or purposes of ERRP, a sponsor may consider multiple health benefit arrangements as one employment-based plan, unless (1) it is clear from the instruments governing an arrangement or arrangements to provide health benefits that the benefits are being provided under separate plans, and (2) the arrangement or arrangements are operated pursuant to such instruments as separate plans.
Until the two plans are combined, the City may be constricted in using ERRP money outside the early retiree plan.
(F)or purposes of ERRP, a sponsor may consider multiple health benefit arrangements as one employment-based plan, unless (1) it is clear from the instruments governing an arrangement or arrangements to provide health benefits that the benefits are being provided under separate plans, and (2) the arrangement or arrangements are operated pursuant to such instruments as separate plans.

Q.  If a sponsor combines plans during or at the end of a plan year but after it has submitted its application to participate in the program, does the sponsor have to submit a new application?
A.  If plans are being combined into an existing plan that has been certified for ERRP purposes, the sponsor should not submit a new application. The sponsor will need to make HHS aware of the change in plan structure through a process that will be developed and announced by HHS.

ERRP funds have to used to stem cost increases inside the approved plan.  This makes the City's stated use of ERRP funds in the HHS application critical.  That information should be made public.

It's clear City leaders want to hold onto ERRP funding until 2012.  The Mayor's desire to combine the two plans could be driven by the aforementioned information.

Separate..., Combine...,  Do-Si-Do.  Watch to see what New calls next..

Federal Health Money Displaces Local Funding

The City of San Angelo joins Tom Green County in using federal health money to displace local funding. Tom Green County's Indigent Health Care Program leverages Upper Payment Limit (UPL) monies, while the City has Early Retiree Reinsurance Program (ERRP) funding. Both substitute federal dollars for local.

I had the opportunity to ask Mayoral candidates about health care in October 2009:

Jesus healed the people, not just his people. Health care reform legislation is front and center. Yet, national solutions to Texas’ legions of uninsured are at least four years away. Texas passed New Mexico as having the most uninsured years ago, clearly a badge of dishonor. In Tom Green County 23,000 people have no health insurance coverage. The vast majority reside in San Angelo. That data came from 2006, when our local unemployment rate was 4%. It’s now 7%.  How many are uninsured today? 25,000. 30,000?

The uninsured are at greater risk for debilitating deterioration from chronic disease, even for early death. Our country stands by as tens of thousands die every year, merely from their lack of health insurance coverage. Yet, at a recent candidate session held by Bishop Michael Pfiefer, health care was not identified as a critical local issue.

Congressional Budget Office projections show 25 million people remaining uninsured in 2018. San Angelo could have 14,000 without coverage, even five years after reform is implemented. This large problem is not going away in the coming decade.

The City has a health department and an employee health clinic. It distributes Community Development Block Grant money. Past CDBG funds supported primary care for low income residents. Shannon Medical Center, Community Medical Center, Esperanza Health Centers, ASU’s School Based Clinic, and the Tom Green County Indigent Health Care Program are your potential partners in making San Angelo a healthier place. Where is health care on your radar? What plans do you have in this arena?
Candidate John David Fields actually spoke to health care and the city's role at the WTOS Candidate Accountability Session.  Every other candidate showed a lack of interest or knowledge.  Alvin New fit into the lack of interest category, at least in my recollection.

The Mayoral pool presaged the City's ongoing abdication in the health arena.   Under New's leadership, Social Services joined other eliminated services, Primary Care Clinic (for public), and the City Pharmacy (which once housed pharmaceutical assistance).  All shifted to the private sector.

City leaders recommend contracting the employee health clinic to CareHere LLC.  City Manager Harold Dominguez noted two CareHere employees once worked for the City.  One set up the City's employee health clinic.  The other later ran it.  While CareHere approached the City, it's hardly the only company running occupational health clinics.  How many bids did the city get?

The City plans to pass 100% of health insurance cost increases to early retirees and workers.   Employees and retirees alone will fund the $1 million health insurance increase for 2011.  The City of San Angelo plans to save a projected $650,000 in ERRP funding for 2012.  Leaders will bank 19 months of ERRP funding before sharing any savings with early retirees and current workers.

Health care is a target on local radar, where federal monies displace local dollars.  County Judge Mike Brown is on record suggesting indigent health is a Medicaid, not county, responsibility.  Mayor Alvin New said "there is no new money" for City health insurance for 2011, completely ignoring ERRP.

Bishop Mike Pfeifer called government leaders together in September to discuss collaboration, doing so after sitting next to Mayor New during a flight  The Bishop spoke to the plight of the least of these, as he continues to do.

Currently, the City has 1,211 policies covering some 1,400 people.  How many will there be after the New Year?  How many dependents will join the ranks of San Angelo's uninsureds?

The City shed 100 dependents through greater cost sharing, during my time with San Angelo's Health Access Coalition.  State changes saw Tom Green County's CHIP enrollment fall nearly 50%.  Representative Drew Darby expects more CHIP cost sharing, the very thing that caused rolls to plummet.

How much pain will Round Two bring?  I hope Bishop Mike's Justice Lady is watching.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Early Retiree Posse Will Arrive in 2012

It suddenly became clear why San Angelo City leaders didn't want to discuss Early Retiree Reinsurance Program (ERRP) funding from the federal government during the last City Council meeting.  The light dawned as I read Health and Human Services' (HHS's) statement regarding ERRP:

“For example, for a sponsor that pays a premium to an insurer, if the premium increases, program funds may be used to pay the sponsor’s share of the premium increase from year to year, which reduces the sponsor’s premium costs.”  

The City can use ERRP to pay its portion of premium increases. The City's doing 0% this year, passing 100% of increases to those covered.  Thus, ERRP is off the table.

The City wants ERRP funds to go toward its premium increases, not those passed through to workers or early retirees.  This explains their abject silence, until Retired Police Chief Russell Smith broached the topic.  Once challenged, city leaders stammered and stumbled over ERRP.

Help is available for City employees and early retirees, a projected $515,000 between June 1, 2010 and December 31, 2011.  The City plans to bank 19 months of ERRP reimbursement, before offering improved benefits or decreased premiums.  It seems San Angelo's HR Manager Lisa Marley spoke prematurely, nearly a year and a half early.

The current ruse for not applying a portion of the expected reimbursement in 2011 is a "lack of clarity" regarding qualifying claims.  HHS conducted two webinars on the topic in October. Did the City have anyone participate?

The city remains evasive and non-forthcoming on this issue.  I have compassion for them.  It's hard to publicly state, "we got a gift from Uncle Sam and only wish to apply it toward our share of premium increases."  That could make early retirees angry.

Paid local leaders are clear in their position and show no signs of budging.  How might elected members and religious leaders react?  We'll find out November 30  December 7.  (Two weeks in "City Council time" can be three weeks)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

ERRP Saving for a GASB Day?

San Angelo City leaders said "there is no new money," in regard to health insurance plan increases.  Their charge was:

All 2011 plan cost increases must be passed through to employees and retirees. 

When challenged by Russell Smith, retired Police Chief, about Early Retiree Reinsurance Program (ERRP) funding, the range of responses included

"I don't have those numbers"
"There is not clarity"
"These things are hard to predict"
"When one time funds go away, you have problems"

Yet, the City has projections from Holmes-Murphy on expected ERRP funding for retiree claims after June 1, 2010.  That's new money.  City Manager Harold Dominguez bragged about Holmes-Murphy's expertise when introducing the agenda item.  Yet, Holmes-Murphy didn't speak at the meeting, nor were their ERRP projections shared with the public.  Kiah Collier of the Standard Times followed up with HR's Veronica Sanchez.

"Because there's so much uncertainly with it, we hate to count on that reimbursement prematurely."
I can't think of a program with less uncertainty.  The City will receive 80% reimbursement for early retiree claims between $15,000 and $90,000 until $5 billion runs out.  The City will bank 19 months of ERRP funding, before pondering sharing any savings with employees/early retirees.  That's $515,000 at Holmes-Murphy's expected amount, a major dent in the $960,000 increase being passed on to workers/retirees.

The City's wants to share ERRP savings in 2012, mashing two years of assistance in one.  This aggravates the problem of "one time funds."   ERRP is expected to run out of money in 2012.  Just as the city is ready to share, the program could be gone. 

Consider the City's position when it received ERRP funding:

“It will either be a better benefit or their premiums can be lowered. Those are the two choices we have to use the funds for,” said the city’s Human Resource Director Lisa Marley.

The benefit is the exact same, not better.  Premiums aren't lowered.  They are going up, even skyrocketing.   The countdown is on, given City Council will make a decision on health insurance at its next meeting.  Will the City remain evasive and non-forthcoming on ERRP and its intended use of the funds?

The City's 2009-2010 budget stated:

As a result of GASB 45, the City is required to fund other post-employment benefits anticipated to be provided to current and future retirees. The City’s unfunded liability is substantial. The budgeted amount to fully fund the liability on an annual basis is in excess of $2 million dollars.
ERRP funding could put a dent the City's GASB obligations. Will the feds allow it?

How many workers and early retirees will drop health insurance as a result of the changes?    While working with San Angelo's Health Access Coalition, I watched City employees drop unaffordable coverage for 100 dependents.  I saw CHIP enrollment plummet when the State increased premiums and deductibles/co-pays. 

What happens when a program intended to keep people covered does the opposite?  That may be the real world application of health reform under PPACA.  While Uncle Sam stumbles forward to help, others walk away.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

San Angelo's ERRP Remains Cloudy

Standard Times reporter Kiah Collier followed up with Human Resources on ERRP funding.  She wrote:

The city HR department says it simply does not know yet how much it will receive in reimbursements from that program.

Estimated ERRP reimbursements come from Holmes-Murphy, the City's health plan consultants.  They used prior claim experience for their calculations.  This is like projecting future tax revenue based on prior collections.   If the City applied the same logic on taxes or expenditures, the Finance Department couldn't prepare a budget.

Kiah continued:

It (City of San Angelo) does have a projected or estimated amount, but even if it does end up receiving anything, it will likely use those reimbursement to offset any increases in the 2012 health insurance plan - not the 2011 (upcoming year) plan.

I just called Veronica Sanchez with the HR department and she said, "Because there's so much uncertainly with it, we hate to count on that reimbursement prematurely."
The City is eligible for federal reimbursement for retiree claims as of June 1, 2010.  The first reimbursements to sponsors, like the City, were expected to be deposited in October.  That's last month.  Has the City or Blue Cross/Blue Shield gotten an ERRP check yet?

Program funding is expected to last two years.  When the city is ready to share any savings with retirees, ERRP will likely be out of money.

There is no uncertainty in reimbursement under ERRP.  Early retiree claims between $15,000 and $90,000 after June 1, 2010 are reimbursable. Checks for 80% of those costs will be cut.  The question is how much?

The City was accepted in the first round.  Why hold onto 18 months of reimbursement, before sharing a nickel with plan participants?  ERRP's aim is to keep insurance affordable, especially for retirees.  Hewitt Associates projected a 25 to 35% savings within any retiree healthcare program.  That's $2,000 to $3,000 per early retiree.

I spoke to Veronica several times on this issue.  The numbers changed each time.  Local data doesn't align with national projections.  I'm sure much of it is explainable.  However, for citizens to understand, the city should share their ERRP application and Holmes-Murphy report.

City leaders have been evasive and nonforthcoming on this issue.  That should concern citizens, as well as retired and current employees.  The Standard Times is in a position to press leaders to be more open and accountable.

City of San Angelo Mum on ERRP Funding Use

Mayor Alvin New stated employees and early retirees needed to cover the $960,000 increase in the City's projected health insurance costs.  He didn't say how much of the increase related to retirees vs. current employees.  The City has two separate plans, both self-insured.

Retired Police Chief Russell Smith noted the City's participation in the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program, a fact not mentioned by the Mayor and city leaders.  Health & Human Services offered a description of the program.

The Early Retiree Reinsurance Program provides reimbursement to employer and union sponsors of participating employment-based plans for a portion of the cost of health benefits for early retirees and their spouses, surviving spouses, and dependents. The purpose of the reimbursement is to make health benefits more affordable for plan participants and sponsors so that health benefits are accessible to more Americans than they would otherwise be without this program.
The City's application for ERRP funding had to state "how the applicant will use any program reimbursement to meet the requirements of the program, including how the reimbursement received will be used to reduce plan participant and/or the employer’s health benefit or health benefit premium costs."

How does the city plan to use an expected $650,000 in ERRP funding over a two year period?  What if federal money reaches the maximum $810,000?  City leaders owe the public an explanation.  An open and accountable government would share its ERRP application to HHS and the Holmes-Murphy report.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

San Angelo's Invisible ERRP

During the budget process, San Angelo City Council postponed addressing health insurance.  The numbers, pictured above, were the last the public knew about the issue, until today's Council meeting.  In the interim, the City successfully applied for the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program, which has the federal government reimbursing retiree claims.  ERRP pays 80% of costs between $15,000 and $90,000.  Savings are expected to be $650,000 over a two year period.  GoSanAngelo reported:

“It will either be a better benefit or their premiums can be lowered. Those are the two choices we have to use the funds for,” said the city’s Human Resource Director Lisa Marley, noting the city has yet to determine whether it will put the funds toward claims or premiums although it may be “easier to put toward claims to allow employees to have better coverage.”

"...the program will help offset costs for the city and its early retirees, Marley said

The city is self-insured.  It covers employees and retirees in two separate plans.  Mayor New said BlueCross/BlueShield's rates would increase $960,000 from the prior year, an increase of 10-15%.  The City is financially strapped, given property and sales tax staying level or declining.  That means passing on increased costs to those covered.

Retirees and employees lined up for public comment.  Familiar themes were the rushed nature of the agenda item, the lack of information shared with those impacted and the failure for leaders to meet with employees to understand their needs.

“The problem is there are $1 million of new expenses and there’s not any new revenue, “ said Mayor Alvin New. “So how do you want to pass on for the employees the ability to have the same health care coverage they have ... and how you want to pay for it? That’s what this is about.”

City leaders avoided their receipt of ERRP funds, expected to be $307,000 the first year and $343,000 the second.  When challenged by Russell Smith, retired Police Chief and Justice of the Peace, Veronica Sanchez only gave the name of the program.  HR Director Lisa Marley was not at the meeting.  Also missing in news coverage, when did the City receive bids on their self insurance plans?

City Council and paid leaders purposefully kept ERRP monies out of the discussion.  Surely, they knew of the city's windfall, courtesy of Uncle Sam.  Why? Health & Human Services expects ERRP reimbursement to keep health insurance affordable for retirees.  How is the City planning to use ERRP funding?  The public deserves an answer.

The City Council is a microcosm for American society.  Obama's Deficit Commission hopes to cut Social Security by reducing benefits and/or increasing the retirement age.  Within three years, City retirees will pay the same amount in premium sharing as employees.  By then, the City will have received up to $810,000 in federal reimbursement for retiree claims.

Given the City kept ERRP off the table, it must have plans for the money, other than Lisa Marley's stated promise.  Retirees will not see their premiums go down.  The lack of honesty is disturbing.  It's anything but terrific news.

One employee suggested the city provide assistance for employees, who can't afford huge dependent premium increases.  He thought the City could help enroll dependents in Medicaid or CHIP.  Given the City jettisoned its Social Services workers, this added to the "down the rabbit hole" nature of the meeting,

The final plummet came at near the end of the meeting, when the Council approved a new holiday for workers, Veterans' Day.  If the City can't afford to pay more for health insurance, why did Council increase the paid time off benefit?  Another vacation day cost $135,000.

Combine the first year of ERRP ($307,000) with the new vacation day ($135,000) and you get $442,000, nearly half of the $960,000 shortfall.  The maximum ERRP reimbursement over two years ($810,000), plus the vacation day, knocks out almost the whole amount.

If City Council won't talk about it, what can retirees do?  The message is clear.  Don't be a senior, much less an early retiree.

Republican Clapper

Congressional Republicans floated a government shutdown, suggesting it would send a serious message about deficit reduction.  Republicans turned off the lights during the Clinton years and paid a clear political price. 

Two years ago, Republicans asked the Capital lights be turned back on.  They wanted to address America's energy crisis via "Drill Here, Drill Now."  Here's the pattern:

Lights off (1995)
Lights on (2008)
Lights off (2010)

Who knew the Clapper would symbolize Republican strategy?  That's one odd Circadian Rhythm.  The days keep getting stranger. 

Ghost Visits Charlie Rangel

The ghost of actions past visited Representative Charlie Rangel (D-NY).  A Congressional subcommittee found Rangel guilty of eleven ethics violations.  WaPo reported:

Rangel improperly used his congressional staff and official letterhead to raise seven-figure checks from corporate charities and chief executives for a college wing named in his honor; violated New York City rules by housing his political committees in his rent-controlled apartments in Harlem; did not pay taxes on a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic; and did not properly disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal financial assets. 

The Subcommittee that convicted Rangel included:

Zoe Lofgren,
Chair, California
 Michael McCaul,
Ranking Republican Member, Texas
G.K. Butterfield, North Carolina Mike Conaway, Texas
Kathy Castor, Florida Charles Dent, Pennsylvania
Peter Welch, Vermont Gregg Harper, Mississippi

Odd, Representative Mike Conaway (R-TX) has an earmark ghost in his closet.  It benefited the Albertine's of Fredericksburg, Virginia, not the Texas town. The timing of donations and legislative progress are most curious.

Conaway served as head of the National Republican Congressional Committee's Audit Committee.  It took the CPA a full year to learn outside auditors worked for Casper & Dickens.  The House Ethics Committee has standards for proper use of campaign funds.  Renovating Chris Ward's house hardly qualified.  Five years of abysmal Republican Congressional oversight deserved an investigation and trial. 

I realize the Ethics panel can only right one wrong at a time.  Will Conaway's new earmark religion keep him off the stand?  Will dozens of Republican leaders avoid responsibility for Chris Ward's five year embezzlement?  Only time will tell.  I'd love to hear Chris Ward testify to the level of oversight under the Red team.

Whether Red or Blue, the leadership bar continues to fall, well past abysmal.  Will ghosts visit Mike Conaway this Ethics season?  If so, what story will he tell?  Will it be the simple or complex one?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Caritas Christi Goes PEU

Hellhound Cerberus Capital Management closed its purchase of Caritas Christi Health System, once the largest nonprofit community hospital system in New England.  Cerberus "purchased" Caritas solely with a promise to provide capital.  Prior nonprofit sellouts funded community foundations, but not the Caritas deal.

Who believes in for-profit hospitals, owned by private equity underwriters (PEU's)?

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 
Massachusetts Attorney General
Department of Public Health
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston
The Vatican
Recall Caritas couldn't invest in insurer CeltiCare, as it conflicted with their Catholic mission.  Yet, a PEU sellout to Cerberus Capital Management was a perfect fit?  It's fitting that Cerberus was a three headed hound, guarding the gates of hell.

Also optioned in the deal?  Caritas Christi's Catholic identity, which can be bought out for a mere $25 million.  PPACA builds on the Massachusetts experiment.  Caritas couldn't survive, even after three years of "reform."  The management team that couldn't make a profitable go alone, will stay on under Cerberus.

We look forward to working with Caritas’ outstanding management team to build a community-based health care model that will thrive for many years to come.

White House Health Czar Nancy-Ann Deparle set the table for stressed nonprofit hospital/PEU deals.  She has experience in this area.  To see how a PEU milks for-profit hospitals, examine KKR's bleeding of HCA, a mere $4.25 billion in 2010.  PEU greed infects health care.  Shadow bankers will do for healthcare what they did for America's financial system, bring it to its knees.  How sad that religion and government have been co-opted.

Update 1-26-24:  American Prospect summarized the damage Cerberus and Steward Healthcare did to Massachusetts hospitals.  Steward hired a restructuring advisor and may be headed to bankruptcy.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

BP's New "Culture of Complacency"

Oil Spew Commission Counsel Fred Barlit helped BP's risk management case with his comment:

"to date, we have not seen a single instance where a human being made a conscious decision to favor dollars over safety." 

Did WilmerHale's Jamie Gorelick give Fred that line?   If not, she had to be pleased with its delivery.  Fred noted the Commission did not have subpoena power.  Many refused to testify or plead the Fifth on incriminating questions.  BP CEO Tony Hayward didn't show, much less say how cutting 5,000 jobs and $4 billion in costs impacted safety.

This wasn't BP's first deadly accident.  After BP's Texas City refinery explosion, which killed 15 people, the company put together a list of approved terms for employees to use. Did WilmerHale advise them on language?  BP's internal report on Texas City stated it:

found no evidence of anyone consciously or intentionally taking actions or decisions that put others at risk.”

That sounds like Fred Barlit's statement.  Ironically, WilmerHale helped set up The Baker investigation.

Assisted BP in establishing and supporting the Independent Panel headed by former Secretary of State James Baker to review the safety systems at BP's US refineries.

The Baker report concluded BP had a "misplaced culture of safety," by focusing on personal safety and ignoring process safety.  CEO Lord John Browne, cost cutter extraordinaire,  knew little about his company, when he was deposed three years after the explosion.  Oddly, WilmerHale shares the Lord's cost cutting bent.  Heaven help British higher education survive Browne's slashing.

BP went from "safety challenged" to "complacent"  between April 2005 and April 2010.  What degree of indifference does that represent?  Where was BP's focus is not on safety?  Greed.  BP's Libya machinations are sure to turn one's stomach.

In the midst of asset sales post-blowout, BP invested in Azerbaijan.  Their quandary is where to send their gas, in short supply in Europe.  Recall BP needs to continue drilling in the Gulf of Mexico to fund the $20 billion compensation fund. That's another WilmerHale mantra.

While the final report is yet to be written, early signs favor BP risk management.  Covering for corporate friends, that's a familiar refrain in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Patrick Pape's Light

The Friday news cast showed Patrick Pape's picture.  The anchorwoman said his body had been found in shallow water in South Concho Park.  Not the always smiling Patrick from Community Health Club?  What?  How? Why?

Internet searches provided virtually no information, other than a few details on when he'd gone missing.  I posted something Saturday afternoon..  Having watched a Central Swim Team alumni meet, I couldn't envision Patrick drowning. Yet, the unthinkable happened

Patrick Pape's light shone brightly, especially at the Central pool and Community Health Club.  That's all I should've written.

Peace be to Patrick Pape. God be with family and friends during this tragic time.

Update 11-10 --Johnson's funeral home posted Patrick Jack Pape's obiturary.  Visitation with the family will be from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11, at Johnson's Funeral Home. Funeral service will be at 10 a.m. Friday, November 12, in Johnson's Funeral Home chapel with Rev. Ricky Burk, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church, officiating, assisted by cousin Rev. Brian Pape of Flower Mound, Texas.  GoSanAngelo published Patrick's obituary, as well.

Update 11-12-10--The funeral honored Patrick's life.  Those who loved him turned out in droves.  Family pictures were poignant and moving.  I learned Patrick loved the Bible, baseball and willingly listened to other's problems.  Yet, Patrick found inspiration in other religious teachings, especially Hinduism.  Scripture hinted at Patrick's final struggle on this plane, "broken hearted and crushed in spirit."  What can we learn from the man who willingly listened, yet felt so terribly alone and abandoned?

The outpouring of support could be seen at Johnson's Funeral Home. It's on his Facebook page, even via this blog.  People visited more than 600 times.  They came from 77 cities in 24 U.S. states and three countries, Canada, England and Germany.

I knew the smiling, happy, "world by the tail" Patrick Pape.  That's who was honored and buried.  Yes, Patrick's spirit is with Jesus, experiencing the peace that passeth all understanding.  Might Christ's first word to him have been Namaste?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Would Thomas Jefferson Fly?

Responses to 9-11 security measures ran along several lines:  The first related to America's widely expanding surveillance state:

If you have nothing to hide, why does it bother you they look?

The second, regarding the War on Terror, went something like this:

Rights don't apply to terrorists, who have no respect for life.

Thus, America tortured non-state actors, using techniques considered war crimes, when used against our soldiers in WWII.
Airports recently upped passenger security screening methods.

Rights don't apply to 99.9999984% of fliers, who must prove they are not terrorists.

If you have nothing to hide, why does it bother you they image or touch your genitals?

Screening doesn't apply to government officials, who have rights passengers don't.  The physical/privacy violation should have people up in arms.

"The oppressed should rebel, and they will continue to rebel and raise disturbance until their civil rights are fully restored to them and all partial distinctions, exclusions and incapacitations are removed." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Religion, 1776. Papers 1:548

Officials need funding for increased cargo screening.  They're considering another airline passenger fee. Why should passengers pay for screening someone else's package?  What's right about adding a financial burden to government sponsored pornography and molestation

Planes, trains and automobiles are down to trains and automobiles for many people.  However, to keep people in an oppressive system, alternatives must be limited.   Don't expect help from leaders, who need another terror attack to "reconnect with voters."

Where would Thomas Jefferson land in this debate?  Would he, as a government official, bypass the screening line to board a plane?  Would Jefferson fly today?  Should you?

Red Flags of Backscatter Machines

Friday, November 05, 2010

Box Cutters and Personal Pouches: State of Airline Screening

A sad review of America's descent into ignorance and acquiescence is in order:

Triggering event:  19 Saudi Arabian terrorists hijacked four planes.  Two crashed into the Twin Towers, one into the Pentagon and the last into an open field in Pennsylvania.

The Transportation Safety Administration is established.  Of 142 million passengers, nineteen hijackers represented .00000013% of fliers.  Cockpits are fortified. Major passenger and baggage screening systems are devised and put into place.  A "no fly" list is created. 

Triggering event:  1 British terrorist tried to light a bomb in his shoe.

TSA adjusted procedures, asking people to remove belts and shoes, as part of the screening process.

Triggering event:  1 Nigerian terrorist smuggled bomb making materials in his underwear onto a flight.

Of 151 million passengers, this one terrorist represented .000000006% of fliers.  TSA was in the process of implementing full body scanners, which image citizen's genitalia.  However, the underwear bomber accelerated plans. 

Think about it.  Because the government failed to monitor a suspected terrorist, whose name was turned in by his father, the TSA needs to look at or pat the genitals of women and children?

Triggering event:  2 packages containing bombs are found on airplanes.

Packages fly on passenger, as well as, cargo flights.  TSA ramped up passenger screening.  Citizens refusing to have their private's imaged, must now assent to security agents touching their genitalia. Prior to getting on a flight with unscreened cargo, passengers must be seen naked or fondled?

CBS News says pat downs will be done by same sex agents. This was not the case with Alex Jones' assistant.  She had to ask for a woman agent for her two young girls.  

Terrorists are a tiny fraction of the population.  They rarely travel.  Changing the system to deal with a special cause, brings heavy losses.

America's solution, inspection, isn't foolproof, not by a long shot.  What did nine years of screening find, when TSA agents were acting within their mandate?  We have data from nearly a billion travelers.

What cannot be screened by order of the U.S. government?  Diplomatic pouches.  Apparently, Ben Bernanke's personal pouch is also off limits. Not yours, which will be imaged or groped.  That's the choice.  We are now at systematic dehumanization.

Update 11-21-10: TSA Chief says molestation procedures will not change. When asked if she would submit to a pat down, Hillary Clinton responded: "Not if I could avoid it. No. I mean, who would?"

USIBC's Thanksgiving

President Obama will meet with members of the U.S. India Business Council during his Asian trip.  Does he have to go that far to meet with people he regularly sees?

Albright Stonebridge (Blue) - Madelline Albright
McLarty Associates (Blue) - Mac McLarty, Carlyle Group senior adviser
Apollo Management
Blackstone Group
Carlyle Group affiliate Booz, Allen, Hamilton
Macquarie Capital
W.L. Ross (Wilbur Ross of Sago Mine Explosion, BankUnited & PPIP federal subsidies)

Bank of NY Mellon
Credit Suisse
Goldman Sachs
JP Morgan Chase
Morgan Stanley

Akin Gump
APCO Worldwide
Chertoff Group
DLA Piper (which explains the internationalization of Tea Parties)
Kirkland & Ellis
Patton Boggs

These groups live off Uncle Sam's wallet and America's political dysfunction.  Will they thank President Obama for his government's largess?  Thanks for the giving.

It's fitting that Obama extend a hand of friendship to USIBC, which his minions bashed prior to the election.  What's the Indian version of slurpee?  Then again, it could be a beer summit.

Update 11-6-10:  AP reported on the trip.  "In the fallout of the U.S. elections, in which Democrats lost control of the House and Obama's ability to connect with his country was called into doubt, the president said one lesson learned was the need to set a better tone with business leaders. He was effusive on that front in Mumbai, gathering with top U.S. executives and studying up on their commerce with India."