The news out of Division of Administration (DOA) and the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) just keeps getting more and more bizarre and emerging revelations only serve to solidify the fact that Commissioner of Administration Kristy Kreme Nichols and OGB Executive Director Susan are woefully in over their respective heads.
It’s not just that the Jindal administration just hired two new six-figure salary employees from Blue Cross/Blue Shield (BCBS) to unfix what Kristy Kreme and Susan West fixed—although that’s part of it. Paying Thomas Groves $220,000 a year must smart, given that it is $50,000 more than West pulls down as head of the agency. Elise Cazes will make $106,512 as group benefits administrator.
And it’s not that the OGB trust fund has dwindled from a $540 million pre-Piyush Privatization balance to less than half that amount today—although that’s part of it.
And it’s not that costs to some 230,000 state employees, dependents and retirees who are members of OGB will be going up by some 47 percent and benefits will decrease, Kristy Kreme’s soothing assurances to the contrary notwithstanding—although that’s part of it.
And it’s not that legislators and legislative staff members are eligible to participate in a better plan, LSU First (an option not even available to Louisiana’s other public university employees)—although that’s part of it.
And it’s not that the administration lied to state employees back in 2012, telling us that there would be no premium increases or benefit cuts—although that’s certainly part of it and it doesn’t help that the administration continues to churn out many of those same lies.
And it’s not that most of the staff at an agency that was operating at smooth efficiency and was widely approved of by member employees was fired in order to allow BCBS to take over as the OGB third party administrator (TPA) to handle claims—although that was a big part of it.
No, it isn’t any one of those things. It’s all of them, the cumulative effect of an administration rolling over its loyal employees, forcing many of them into early retirement (if they’re eligible for retirement) or worse, unemployment.
But as if that weren’t bad enough, seemingly with each passing day, the plot at DOA and OGB continues more and more to take on the appearance of a theater of the absurd than it does an administration of mature individuals responsible for running a $25 billion a year state government.
The most recent blunder involved the layoff of about two dozen OGB employees “because there wasn’t enough work for them,’ leaving a skeleton staff unable to man the telephones to take questions from thousands of OGB members, particularly retirees, wondering if they were going to continue to have health coverage.
To fill that vacuum, BCBS employees were brought in to answer the phones but were unable to answer specific questions because of their unfamiliarity with OGB policies.
So then to solve that problem, 20 DOA employees were brought into OGB’s IT section but have done no better.
The obvious answer? Ansafone Communications.
Well, it’s not Answerphone, a company out of Albany, N.Y., as we were originally informed. Our IT (“I’ll Tell”) source informs us the spelling was given to us incorrectly and that it should have been Ansafone out of Santa Ana, California, and Ocala, Florida. And the contract is for about a million bucks, not the $2 million we were originally told.
Still, it’s another of those emergency contracts that DOA is issuing with reckless abandon with no requests for proposals, no bids and apparently, if the Alvarez & Marcel (A&M) contract, which went from about $4.2 million to more than $7 million at warp speed, is any indication, no ceiling.
Of course, all contracts must be approved by the Office of Contractual Review. But the Office of Contractual Review works for…(ahem), Kristy Kreme.
Not much more is known about Ansafone than we were able to learn about Answerphone except Ansafone does include a little more hype on its web page: http://www.ansafone.com/
Kristy Kreme assures us in a Baton Rouge Advocate news story that Ansafone “in health care enrollment” and that “Ansafone representatives have experience with managing benefit plans and have been trained extensively on OGB and its offerings.” Apparently, their “extensive training” of a few days better qualifies them than the OGB employees who did that for years before they were shown the door.
It does have on its web page a cute “Five Star Recipe for Customer Service Failure,” however. http://www.ansafone.com/five-star-recipe-for-customer-service-failure/ Kristy Kreme and Susan West might want to peruse that a bit. Some of the ingredients included:
A “tablespoon of no communication,”
A “dash of not caring,” and
“4 ounces of empty promises.”
Sounds like something this administration cooks up virtually every day.
Frankly, we don’t see the need to pay these folks. In fact, Kristy Kreme may want to consider collecting royalties from Ansafone for stealing the Jindal recipe for failure.
So while our source provided us with the name of the wrong company, we will gladly take our one error, embarrassing though it certainly is, over the endless examples exhibited by Jindal, Kristy Kreme, and whoever happens to in charge today at OGB. We would print the name, but given the new salary structure there, we’re not exactly sure who that is and we don’t want another glaring error—not this soon, anyway.
Perhaps we can get some answers next Friday (Sept. 19) when the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget meets in House Committee Room 5 at the state Capitol at 9 a.m. or the following Thursday (Sept. 25) when the House Appropriations Committee meets at 10 a.m. in the same committee room. Both meetings are being held to address OGB’s rising costs, falling revenue and dwindling benefits.
Maybe Kristy Kreme and Susan West can both appear and enlighten the legislators tag team-style with their combined wizardry.
But basically, what we know is this:
Two dozen OGB employees were fired because they didn’t have enough work to do;
BCBS employees had to help on the phone lines but were incapable of answering the multitude of questions from members;
About 20 DOA employees were brought in to help on the phone lines but that still wasn’t enough;
A firm with a sketchy web page about which little is known was hired at a cost of $1 million to provide 100 operators in California and 100 in Florida to help out on the phones with problems in Louisiana.
All things considered, we can only borrow a phrase from the Ol’ Perfesser, Casey Stengel who said of his 1962 New York Mets baseball team (that lost 120 of 162 games):
“Can’t anyone here play this game?”