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Jindal team rejects good advice

Last Modified: Thursday, November 13, 2014 6:38 AM

By Jim Beam/American Press

Some members of the Gov. Bobby Jindal administration have a supercilious attitude when it comes to taking advice from others. The latest example came when the Public Affairs Research Council suggested a better system for making changes in the health insurance program for state workers, teachers, retirees and their dependents.

Forgive the use of “supercilious,” but nothing else appropriately describes the reaction of Kristy Nichols, commissioner of administration, to PAR’s recommendation. The word means “behaving as though one thinks one is superior to others.”

Nichols said, “We disagree with the report when it comes to concluding that a lack of oversight or transparency is to blame for the changes to OGB’s plans.”

PAR suggested a special panel of insurance actuaries could be used to review changes like those the administration has been making in the health insurance program overseen by the Office of Group Benefits. The changes approved by Nichols have been controversial from Day 1.

Robert Travis Scott, president of PAR, said, “We do think it (a special panel) will be a process where the decisions would be made in public, where stakeholders and the public have a chance to comment and (it’s) probably more of an objective, independent and transparent process.”

The Jindal administration doesn’t make decisions in public. It subscribes to the theory expressed by Jonathan Gruber, the architect of Obamacare. Gruber believes lack of transparency gives public officials a huge political advantage because it keeps an uninformed public in the dark. He told a group it was the only way to pass the health care plan.

Jindal’s team has been tinkering with the health insurance program for nearly two years. It reduced premiums and hired a private company to administer the program. The untimely premium cuts began to deplete a $500 million OGB reserve fund to pay insurance claims. Nichols said that was no problem because the reserve fund was too large. It was another example of that superior attitude. The loss of reserve funds eventually forced an overhaul of the insurance plans that included higher premiums and deductibles and — in some cases — higher out-of-pocket expenses for plan members.

As you can imagine, the 230,000 workers and others covered by OGB were outraged. They saw what had been a well-run health insurance system suddenly becoming more expensive and with reduced benefits. Legislators who represent plan members were deluged with complaints. Unfortunately, they have little to say about how the plan operates.

Nichols disagrees. She said the Legislature, its auditor and its fiscal office and an OGB advisory board have oversight. But when the administration disagrees with the auditor and fiscal office — which is most of the time — it simply ignores their advice. To their credit, legislators refused to be shut out of the process. And it was for good reason. Those who can run again will be up for re-election in 2015, and they began to feel the heat from their constituents.

The Retired State Employees Association also got into the act. The group talked about filing suit when it learned the administration hadn’t followed proper procedure in making some of the health plan changes. That apparently convinced the Jindal administration to announce it would refund an $4.48 million to some health plan members. Those are out-of-pocket expenses members paid that didn’t go through the proper approval procedure.

Then came one of the rare examples of legislative independence. The Advocate said, “Under legislative pressure, the Jindal administration Friday revamped its plan to stabilize the finances of the state health insurance program that covers a quarter million government workers and their families.”

Deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums will be rolled back to 2014 levels for retirees. Active employees will see a 10 percent to 20 percent reduction on deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. In order to make those reversals, a 10.8 percent premium increase will go into effect July 1. The administration said the increase translates to $6 to $48 per month for each member, depending on the plan and level of coverage chosen.

State agencies will pay nearly $56 million more for the changed coverage and 44 of the state’s 69 school districts that are under the OGB plans will see an increase of $38.3 million added to their budgets. As you would expect, the school systems said the added expense will affect money available for classroom instruction.

Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said many plan members told legislators they would prefer a premium increase to shifting more costs to members through higher deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. Those covered by OGB have until Dec. 7 to enroll in their benefit plans, and the plans take effect next March 1. Both were additional concessions by the administration.

A public hearing on the changed plans is required, and it has been scheduled for Dec. 29.

The PAR proposal that a qualified third party get involved in the health insurance process would have saved 230,000 people covered by OGB a lot of heartache and avoided two years of unnecessary turmoil. Unfortunately, that supercilious attitude by some members of the Jindal administration gets in the way of good, old-fashioned common sense.

Posted By: Dwight On: 11/13/2014

Title: The Jindal attitude

If it ain't broke, fix it. Sometime I think these people's purpose in life is to show that government doesn't work by rigging so it won't..

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