News and Events
Reflections about the NEA-R 2012 Leadership Development & Organizing Conference
Tuesday, March 27-Friday, March 30, 2012 at Bally’s Hotel, Las Vegas, NV
By Jo-An Goss
I was most impressed with the “NEA-Retired: Experienced Advocates for Public Education” Conference. Compared to the NEA RA’s that I’ve attended previously, this conference was low-keyed, more personal, and pertinent to our retiree issues.
Although I enjoyed Congresswoman Dina Titus’ (D-NV) opening address, it was NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen’s speech that was one of the highlights of the conference. Being a dynamic keynoter and guitarist, she outlined the Conservative Republican’s outlandish agenda that undermines the poor and middle class America and collective bargaining. Her power point slides were insightful, showing the trend of all Republican presidential candidates to cut taxes on the rich and corporations while raising the taxes on the poor. Contrarily, President Obama’s track record has been consistent. He has continued to put education first, save educator jobs, take the middle man bankers out of the loan process for educators, and not support any plan against the middle class.
There were a variety of interesting workshops, and I chose several under the track, “Retirement Security Issues.” The presenters shared data from across the nation and highlighted “hot spot” states which have experienced pressure to diminish state pension funding, increase employee contributions, increase length of service required for vesting, increase the period to cultivate the final average for new hires/non-vested, decrease, restrict or eliminate COLA, reduce the multiplier in the benefit formula for new hires/all employees, and eliminate public employee positions on trustee boards, either elected or appointed. Hawai’i was listed as one of those “hot spot” states!
Despite the more serious conference, the glamour of Las Vegas allowed our Hawai’i 5.0 group (Justin Wong, Vaughn Tokashiki, Beverly Gotelli, Jean Dobashi, and myself) to experience some of the ambiance of the luxurious mega hotels and their exquisite meals and enticing gambling sites!
I am grateful for the ability to attend this NEA-R conference, and I encourage others to attend future NEA-R events. It is important to remain informed about our retiree issues, not only for us, but also for actives! We retirees have the expertise, time, and passion to voice our concerns! Lily Eskelsen’s fervent singing of “We Shall Overcome” indicated the important role for us retirees!!
January 13, 2011
UPDATE: VEBA to EUTF Transition
We share the concerns expressed by some VEBA members since the imposed transfer to EUTF on January 1, 201l. It is unfortunate that EUTF did not agree with our request for an extension to make sure EUTF had all the details worked out before bringing in VEBA members. Our attorneys are helping address some of the issues that have been raised. ?As you know, Judge Sakamoto ruled on December 7, 2010 that although the transfer of teachers from VEBA to the EUTF could go forward, the EUTF was required to provide the same level of benefits to the teachers once they transferred to the EUTF. ?There has been significant disagreement between the parties regarding the implementation of Judge Sakamoto’s ruling. At our request the attorneys met on January 6, 2011 with Judge Sakamoto to discuss issues related to his December 7 ruling. At this status conference Judge Sakamoto reaffirmed his ruling that (1) the level of benefits provided by the EUTF to teachers must be the same as the level of benefits provided to the teachers by the VEBA Trust, and (2) the $3.96 million taken by the State must be set aside for the benefit of the teachers transferred to the EUTF. ?The attorneys agreed to discuss any perceived change in benefits, particularly with HMSA’s 80/20 plan. We will continue to monitor the transfer and work with the State and EUTF to ensure that your health benefits are not diminished or impaired with this transition. ?The EUTF is in charge of handling the VEBA to EUTF transition. They posted information on their Web site. EUTF updates are posted at www.eutf.hawaii.gov, see the black box on the left site of the EUTF home page that is labeled For HSTA Members. In addition, please watch your home mail delivery and open any correspondence that your health care provider sends.
EUTF Update for State Employees: 60/40 split restored, premium rate ?increase
Now that the elections are over, HSTA members look to see real proof of our candidates’ commitment to Hawaii’s children, schools, and communities.
HSTA recently reached an agreement with the Abercrombie Administration to restore the 60/40 EUTF health benefit premium split for State employees, effective March 1, 2011 through the end of the current contract period, June 30, 2011. The agreement covers teachers recently transferred from VEBA to EUTF.
The agreement coincides with an 11 percent rate increase to ?premiums effective March 1. Although the premium rates have been set, the ?employer has not yet notified the unions of the dollar amount that the state will ?contribute as their share of the premium. It is expected, however, that ?the restoration of the 60/40 split will result in a positive impact for most ?plan subscribers, except Kaiser members whose rate increase is greater ?than the amount expected to be restored with the premium split.
Please watch for more information from the EUTF. ?The employer contribution for the July 1, 2011 - June 30, 2013 contract ?must be negotiated, and will be discussed during the current contract ?negotiations.
December 30, 2010
UPDATE: VEBA to EUTF Transition
Four years ago, the HSTA resumed administering health benefit plans to active and retired public school teachers through the VEBA Trust. However, pursuant to a state law known as Act 106, teachers were to be transferred from the VEBA Trust to the EUTF on December 31, 2010. Initially, the State of Hawai`i planned to transfer the teachers without regard to the rights they had acquired while in the VEBA Trust. Therefore, in an effort to stop the impending transfer and protect your rights, the HSTA spearheaded the filing of Kono v. Lingle, a class action lawsuit on behalf of teachers against the State on September 14, 2010. The HSTA—while not a party to the litigation—initiated the lawsuit in order to ensure that the teachers’ constitutionally protected health benefits were not diminished or impaired.
The Kono v. Lingle Lawsuit
In October, the State filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the law supported judgment in its favor. In November, the teachers filed a motion for preliminary injunction seeking to preserve the status quo and to keep teachers in their VEBA plans past the December 31, 2010 transition date.
The motions were heard on December 7, 2010 before Judge Karl Sakamoto, who issued an oral ruling at the close of the hearing. Judge Sakamoto denied the State's motion to dismiss our lawsuit. In addition, although Judge Sakamoto allowed the transfer of the teachers to go forward, he ruled that both active and retired teachers are entitled to receive the same level of health benefits in the EUTF as they would have received if they had remained in the VEBA Trust. Additionally, Judge Sakamoto ruled that $3.96 million taken by the State from the VEBA Trust must be set aside to help maintain the teachers’ health benefits in the EUTF. We believe these rulings are a significant victory for the teachers in protecting your health benefits.
Efforts to Ensure Compliance with Judge Sakamoto’s Ruling
Since Judge Sakamoto delivered his oral ruling, we have repeatedly demanded the State and the EUTF comply with the court's ruling and urged the EUTF to give teachers full disclosure and notice regarding the proposed transition. Since the EUTF initially remained silent and refused to meet with us, we enlisted the assistance of Governor Abercrombie. We were able to arrange a meeting with the Governor's staff and the EUTF on December 15, 2010, where we raised a number of concerns about the EUTF transition. Our major concerns are identified below, as well as the EUTF’s responses to date:
· Same Level of Health Benefits: We informed the EUTF that in order to comply with Judge Sakamoto’s ruling, it would need to create health benefit plans for the teachers that provided the same level of health benefits as they received in the VEBA Trust;
o The EUTF has repeatedly assured us that the teachers will have the same level of benefits, creating new plans in the EUTF specifically for teachers. We will continue to monitor these plans to ensure that they satisfy the requirements set forth by Judge Sakamoto.
· Lack of Notice: We urged the EUTF to provide information on its Web site (www.eutf.hawaii.gov) before the Winter Break to ensure that the teachers were informed of the EUTF’s transition plans;
o Unfortunately, the EUTF provided little information, posting only two brief notices through December 26, 2010. On December 27, the EUTF finally posted a more comprehensive memo to the teachers regarding the impending transfer. Additionally, despite assurances that premium rates would be disclosed before Christmas, the EUTF did not post the premium rates until December 29, 2010. Finally, as of December 30, 2010, there still is little information regarding when a new enrollment card will be issued to teachers enrolling in the EUTF HMSA 80/20 plan.
· Medical Enrollment Cards: We sought confirmation in writing of the EUTF’s statements that the carriers would honor existing enrollment cards after December 31, 2010 and an explanation of how existing cards would be effective if the EUTF changed carriers or programs;
o In its December 27, 2010 memo, the EUTF confirmed that current HSTA VEBA enrollment cards would be honored except the EUTF HMSA 80/20 plan. It remains unclear whether the HMSA cards will be issued before the transfer and whether teachers will be able to obtain services if the cards are not issued by December 31, 2010.
· Open Enrollment: In light of potentially increased premiums under the EUTF’s new benefit plans specifically for teachers, we demanded the EUTF reconsider its decision not to allow transferred teachers to participate in the January open enrollment effective March 1, 2010;
o Initially, the EUTF refused our demand, as indicated in its December 16, 2010 notice. However, the EUTF has reversed its decision and allowed teachers to participate in the general EUTF open enrollment period running from January 3, 2011 to January 24, 2011.
· Increased Premiums: We urged the EUTF to inform the teachers as soon as possible about premium rates of their new EUTF plans, and informed the EUTF that we did not believe the teachers’ premium rates could be increased once they are transferred to the EUTF;
o Unfortunately, many of the rate increases are substantial and much more than the rates for plans offering the same level of benefits in the VEBA Trust. As discussed below, we intend to raise this issue with Judge Sakamoto.
· The $3.96 Million Taken From the VEBA Trust: We have asked the State to comply with Judge Sakamoto’s ruling by setting this money aside to ensure that the teachers can maintain their standard of health benefits.
o This remains a point of contention among the parties, and we will continue our efforts to have the money set aside to help mitigate increased costs teachers may face as a result of the transfer.
As we previously stated, we believe Judge Sakamoto’s ruling was a significant victory for the teachers. However, since the EUTF is responsible for the transition, the HSTA will continue to monitor the transfer and push the EUTF and the State to comply with the ruling. We have already scheduled a conference with Judge Sakamoto on January 6, 2011 to discuss the specifics of his ruling as well as the increased premium rates and the $3.96 million ordered set aside for the teachers.
As a result of our efforts to seek protection of teachers’ rights through court action, teachers will now be transferred to EUTF with plans that provide the identical level of coverage as they had under the VEBA Trust. Additionally, teachers will have the option of transferring to standard EUTF plans should they choose to do so. Most importantly, the court found that your health benefits are constitutionally protected and cannot be unreasonably impaired or diminished.
DEC 27 UPDATE: VEBA to EUTF Transition
The following update was posted on the EUTF Web site. The link below takes users away from the HSTA-R Web site.
Information provided by the EUTF is not certified by HSTA.
The following EUTF Memo is not represented by HSTA.
When you click on the links below, you will be taken away from the HSTA-R Web site.
This information is from the State of Hawaii HAWAI`I EMPLOYER-UNION HEALTH BENEFITS TRUST FUND (EUTF):
Posted December 10, 2010
KONO v. LINGLE UPDATE
As you are probably now aware, on December 7, 2010, Judge Sakamoto permitted the transition of the teachers from the VEBA Trust to the EUTF to go forward, ruling that active and retired school teachers were entitled to the “same level of coverage” in health benefits in the EUTF that you now enjoy in the VEBA Trust. Judge Sakamoto also ordered the $3.96 million previously taken by the State from the VEBA Trust must be paid to the EUTF and set aside to help maintain the teachers’ health benefits in the EUTF.
Unfortunately, despite our requests the EUTF has not yet agreed to meet with us to make this transition as smooth as possible. We are concerned that the EUTF may not be able to complete the transition by December 31, 2010, and even if it can, it (1) may not be able to provide the same level of health benefits to you, (2) may charge you higher premiums for the same level of coverage, and (3) may not provide you with timely open enrollment opportunities. We believe Judge Sakamoto’s order requires the EUTF to provide the teachers the same array of health benefits and alternatives at the same cost as you would receive under the VEBA Trust.
Hopefully, the EUTF will meet with us and address our concerns satisfactorily. Our lawyers will seek Judge Sakamoto’s assistance if these problems become significant or if the transition becomes impracticable. However, under any scenario you should be prepared for some problems since we are not in control of this transition.
Posted December 9, 2010
The judge has ruled on the class action lawsuit. We are working with the attorneys, VEBA, and EUTF to work out details on implementing the judge’s decision.
Kono v. Lingle Class Action Lawsuit
HSTA members obtained a significant victory in the Kono v. Lingle class action lawsuit. Judge Karl Sakamoto rejected the State of Hawai`i’s request to dismiss the lawsuit. He ruled that all active and retired teachers receiving health benefits from the VEBA Trust have a constitutionally protected right to continue to receive those benefits—which are superior to the benefits available to employees in the EUTF system. While the court permitted the transition of the teachers from the VEBA Trust to the EUTF to go forward, Judge Sakamoto ruled that active and retired school teachers were entitled to the “same level of coverage” in health benefits in the EUTF that they now enjoy. Judge Sakamoto also ordered the $3.96 million previously taken by the State from the VEBA Trust must be used given to the EUTF to help maintain the teachers’ health benefits in the EUTF.
HSTA President Wil Okabe was pleased with the court’s rulings. He said, “We are grateful the court recognized and protected our members’ retirement health benefits. Judge Sakamoto’s ruling insures our members’ retirement health benefit coverage can never be diminished or impaired by the EUTF or under any other benefit administration plan.”
Posted December 6, 2010
This is an update on the Kono v. Lingle class action lawsuit:
As you know, on September 14, 2010, Hawai`i’s public school teachers filed the Kono class action lawsuit against the State of Hawai`i to protect their constitutionally protected health benefits. While not a party to the lawsuit, the HSTA spearheaded this litigation on behalf of its active and retired members.
On October 12, 2010, the State filed a motion to dismiss our case, claiming that the law supported judgment in its favor.
On November 4, 2010, we filed a motion for preliminary injunction seeking to preserve the status quo and keep the teachers in their VEBA plans past the December 31, 2010 transition date. We attached several declarations to our motion from active and retired teachers who needed medication or medical attention. These teachers attested to the hardships they would suffer from the impending transfer to the EUTF. Their declarations allowed us to demonstrate to the court the adverse effect that the proposed transfer would have on the teachers, particularly the ill and elderly.
Both parties will be submitting additional briefs on these two motions. A hearing on these motions is scheduled for December 7, 2010 at 10:30 a.m. before Judge Karl Sakamoto.