The Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committee will meet at 10 a.m. on Friday but will not take testimony from the public.
The two committees are expected to instruct Nichols and OGB CEO Susan West to slash the increases in deductibles—some couples’ deductibles increased from $300 to $3,000 under the new plan being proposed by OGB–and co-pays.
OGB has already announced a two-month delay in the implementation of steep increases in prescription drug costs and will refund about $4.5 million in overcharges to state employees.
The Jindal administration is attempting to impose the co-pay and deductible increases as a way to recover hundreds of millions of dollars the administration managed to squander as a cost-savings to the state’s own contributions to employees’ premiums as a means to cover huge gaps in Jindal’s state budget.
The entire scenario reads like the script from an old I Love Lucy sitcom as everything the administration had done with OGB has blown up in its face in an improbable comedy of errors—even to the point of Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols providing false testimony to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget on Sept. 25 shortly before she abruptly left the JLCB meeting to take her daughter to a boy band concert in New Orleans.
When asked point blank by State Rep. John Bel Edwards at that Sept. 25 hearing–before heading out to the Smoothie King Arena to settle into the governor’s luxury box seats for the concert—which actuary recommended that OGB reduce premiums by nearly 9 percent, she testified that Buck Consultants made the recommendation.
But Buck reportedly responded by email within days that it never made any such recommendation and that Nichols’ testimony was in direct contradiction to its recommendations.
A July report from Buck reinforces its claim that it never made any such recommendation. “We did not recommend a decrease of 7% effective August 1, 2012, or an additional decrease of 1.77% effective August 1, 2013. Further, we were not asked to provide any recommended rate adjustments for any fiscal years beyond what we provided for Fiscal Year 2012/2013,” the report says.
When witnesses sign cards prior to speaking before a legislative committee, they are certifying that they understand that their testimony is considered as being given under oath.
Edwards also asked at the hearing that Nichols or West provide him with a copy of that recommendation but he said on Wednesday (Nov. 5) that he still had not received that information. “I still have not received any actuarial recommendations for the 2013 and 2014 premium reductions at OGB,” he told LouisianaVoice. “Nor have they told me that such recommendations do not exist. Clearly, they do not.”
If someone were to set out to demonstrate how incompetent an administration could be, he would be hard pressed to find a better example than the manner in which it has handled the Office of Group Benefits—from firing an effective CEO who built up a $500 million reserve fund in favor of a revolving door approach to subsequent CEOs, to firing experience claims handlers with whom OGB members were comfortable, to hiring a California firm with no knowledge of Louisiana’s medical coverage program to handle telephone inquiries because experienced OGB staff were also fired, to attempting to implement emergency rules to enact the cost increases in co-pays and deductibles without the legally required public hearings, to having to refund $4.5 million in prescription drug overcharges for the same violation of the emergency rules procedures, to first claiming that it was not necessary to invoke the emergency rule and then deciding to do just that, to lying to legislators about actuarial recommendations of premium reductions.
The FUBARs and SNAFUs of OGB are so many and so irreversible that they should give pause to anyone who would entertain even the fleeting notion that Gov. Bobby Jindal is capable of leading the free world when, through his inept surrogates, he has, in less than two years, destroyed a relatively small but viable, efficient state agency.
Jindal and Nichols, of course, have a ready explanation for the OGB financial woes: medical costs have risen and it’s all Obamacare’s fault—never Jindal’s.
It’s the same arrogance level as that was demonstrated by Nichols in another appearance before a legislative committee when, trying to explain budget figures, she said somewhat condescendingly, “Let me dumb it down for you.”