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Denied: How some Tennessee doctors earn big money denying disability

Posted on 14 November 2019 (0)
By the time Alan Chrisman was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer, he was too sick to work. The cancer had spread to his lungs. His doctors said he may never get better.
Chrisman, 59, applied for disability, the federal safety net program he contributed to with every paycheck during his 30 years working as a stonemason.
But a doctor hired by Tennessee’s Disability Determination Services to review applications quickly concluded Chrisman wasn’t sick enough to get the $804 monthly benefit.
That physician, Dr. Thomas Thrush, is one of about 50 doctors contracted to review applications for Tennesseans seeking disability.
By Caitie McMekin / News Sentinel

By Caitie McMekin / News Sentinel

By the time Alan Chrisman was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer, he was too sick to work. The cancer had spread to his lungs. His doctors said he may never get better.

Chrisman, 59, applied for disability, the federal safety net program he contributed to with every paycheck during his 30 years working as a stonemason.

But a doctor hired by Tennessee’s Disability Determination Services to review applications quickly concluded Chrisman wasn’t sick enough to get the $804 monthly benefit.

That physician, Dr. Thomas Thrush, is one of about 50 doctors contracted to review applications for Tennesseans seeking disability.

The doctors are paid a flat rate for each application file they review. How much they earn depends on how fast they work.

Thrush, like many of the doctors who contract with the state, works very fast.

In fiscal year 2018, he reviewed — on average — one case every 12 minutes.

Thrush’s productivity has paid off. He earned $420,000 for reviewing the applications of 9,088 Tennesseans applying for disability during the year ending June 30. He has made more than $2.2 million since 2013.

On average, 80 percent of the cases he reviewed were denied.

Tennessee has among the highest denial rates for disability applicants in the nation, rejecting 72 percent of all claims in 2017. The national average for denials was 66 percent.

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Nashville pension fund leads U.S. in risky investments

Posted on 07 April 2018 (0)

pensionsNashville’s public pension system invested city workers’ retirement funds in the nation’s largest share of risky, high-priced investments among its peers. After eight years, the aggressive strategy shows promise, but it’s not clear if it’s worth the risk to retirees, or the millions paid to Wall Street managers.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, Nashville’s pension managers have been shifting taxpayer money into junk bonds, hedge funds, troubled mortgages, private equity funds and other alternatives to conservative stocks and bonds. If successful, these “alternative investments” can earn greater profits, but they also demand high fees and carry the risk of heavy losses.

Nashville’s investments have shown mixed results. After taking out fees, the city’s fund grew by 4.7 percent a year since 2008, on average, while the Standard & Poors 500 gained 6.6 percent.

Pension systems across the country, looking to improve their balance sheets, have moved into this once-rarefied realm of Wall Street financiers. But Nashville stands out for its large share of so-called alternatives.

The city has placed 57 percent of its $2.8 billion fund into alternative investments, including real estate. Among its peers, Nashville had the highest share in fiscal year 2015, according a Tennessean analysis of National Association of State Retirement Administrators data for funds with $1 billion to $5 billion in assets. The national average among all public funds, by contrast, is 17 percent.

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This is an ongoing series into Nashville’s pension fund. Here are two other stories:

How much does Wall Street make from Nashville’s pension fund? Nobody knows.

Nashville pension fund paying Wall Street 40% more than previously disclosed

LA charter school under review after principal charges $100K

Posted on 07 April 2018 (0)
Photo by Dean Musgrove/Los Angeles Daily News

Photo by Dean Musgrove/Los Angeles Daily News

Just a 10-minute drive from the school, the waiter brought the table a $95 bottle of fine Syrah wine. Dimly-lit Monty’s Prime Steaks & Seafood, with its red booths and white linen, doubled as a high school meeting room that Wednesday night, Principal David Fehte says. And on many other nights.

In 2014 and 2015, Fehte, who leads El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills, charged more than $15,500 at Monty’s to his school-issued American Express card.

“When we’re doing business, we’re doing business,” Fehte said recently as he walked to his BMW in the San Fernando Valley campus parking lot.

He also paid for first-class airfare and luxury hotel rooms with his school-funded credit card.

Fehte acknowledged charging El Camino for personal travel and, after the Daily News inquired, said he reimbursed the public school.

Over the two years, Fehte charged more than $100,000 to the card, according to a Los Angeles Daily News analysis. El Camino receives about $32 million in government funds annually, accounting for 94 percent of its revenue.
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This investigation prompted investigations by the district and led to the resignation of Fehte and other members of the school’s board of directors.

Here’s the other main story from the investigation:
El Camino High principal moonlighted as NBA scout, billed travel to school

And here’s some of the aftermath:
El Camino Real’s principal to resign under agreement with LAUSD

Which Nashville neighborhoods are doubling up after demolition?

Posted on 06 April 2018 (0)
Wade Payne / For The Tennessean

Wade Payne / For The Tennessean

From his office above a Whole Foods store in upscale Green Hills, John Brittle Jr. and his team of agents target the next affordable Nashville neighborhood for redevelopment.

Brittle, a broker with Parks Realty, is called the “Infill King.” His developer clients rely on him to spot bargain older homes, which they tear down and replace with bigger, more expensive properties.

“For 30 years, real estate agents have been talking about the TSU and Fisk areas,” Brittle said, referring to the neighborhoods surrounding Tennessee State University and Fisk University, two of Nashville’s historically black institutions. “We’re going to see some beautiful stuff there.”

Investors and builders have transformed entire neighborhoods in recent years as Nashville’s appetite for homes soared. Countywide, nearly half of all properties with single structures demolished and new construction approved had two or more residential buildings planned for the lot, according to a Tennessean analysis of Metro Nashville permit data.

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The Cost of Jobs: What do taxpayers get for Tennessee business subsidies?

Posted on 06 April 2018 (0)

amazonClarksville, a military hub north of Nashville with 150,000 residents, has awarded multimillion-dollar property tax breaks to large corporations, including Google, without publicly disclosing the value of the subsidies or tracking hiring at those companies.

“It’s a verbal check,” said Mike Evans, executive director of the Clarksville-Montgomery County Industrial Development Board. “Do we have a piece of paper or a form filled out? We don’t. But it’s a system.”

More than $2.5 billion in subsidies such as grants, tax breaks and tax credits are given to businesses in the state each year, according to an analysis by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

An investigation by the largest four media organizations in Tennessee — The Tennessean, The Commercial Appeal, Knoxville News Sentinel and (Chattanooga) Times Free Press — found statewide that many officials and agencies do not track or disclose the number of jobs created by subsidy deals.

That lack of accountability means taxpayers and leaders can’t effectively decide whether individual subsidy deals are a good investment or if the money would be better spent on education, infrastructure or another jobs program.

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Water enforcement dropped in business-friendly Haslam administration

Posted on 06 April 2018 (0)
Mike Brown / USAT Network

Mike Brown / USAT Network

Year after year, the inspectors found the same violations. Norfolk Southern Railway, they noted, allowed construction dirt to wash into tributaries of the Wolf River, a hunting source for bald eagles that flows from northern Mississippi to Memphis.

The railroad had graded much of 380 acres of farmland, exposing tan earth before paving the way for the Memphis Regional Intermodal Facility. With state-of-the-art cranes, the terminal would allow Norfolk Southern to rapidly transfer cargo containers from trains to trucks. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, shovel in hand, posed at the 2011 groundbreaking and hailed the potential transportation jobs.

That same year — Haslam’s first in office — his administration began reshaping the state Department of Environment and Conservation to be more “customer focused.” Haslam’s hand-picked commissioner merged the three water protection divisions into one, shed a quarter of their positions, and nearly stopped penalizing polluters. The agency prided itself on helping companies comply with the law before resorting to fines.

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Mesa Water’s $500,000 rebranding

Posted on 31 March 2014 (0)
Jebb Harris, Orange County Register

Jebb Harris, Orange County Register

Orange County Register

Native American musicians blessed the “ancestral waters,” valets parked cars for 150 “VIP” guests and $50,000 event planners passed out catered custom cookies shaped like water drops and redwood trees – $1,500 worth of cookies.

Last month’s unveiling of a revamped water filtration facility is just a small example of Mesa Water District’s lavish spending on marketing and communications.

While raising rates, the public provider of Costa Mesa’s drinking water has increased its communications spending by 300 percent in four years. It now wields a $1.25 million annual budget that dwarfs those at similar water districts. The district serves just 110,000 customers.

People don’t have a choice in their water provider, yet district officials want to pump up their reputation. They say not enough ratepayers know their name, which could be a problem during natural disasters, or when officials need to pass a bond measure. But an underlying motivation, board meeting minutes show, may be their desire to remain an independent agency in the face of criticism. To raise their profile, Mesa officials have paid six figures to public relations consultants and staff.

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ALSO READ: Mesa Water drops branding campaign after backlash

ALSO READ: Mesa Water denied copyright for pricey logo

While fees climbed, pension earnings lagged

Posted on 31 March 2014 (0)

orangecountyOrange County’s public pension system poured money into hedge funds, private equity and other so-called alternative investments during the past six years, but the returns have proven mediocre despite costing millions in fees.

This year alone, the fund is expecting to pay $54.5 million to alternative-investment managers, according to a budget briefing document obtained by the Orange County Register.

But in financial reports through the first half of the year, the pension system disclosed none of those fees. Officials said they are following standard government reporting practices.

Indeed, the Orange County Employees Retirement System is not alone.

As pension funds nationwide struggle to make up large unfunded liabilities, public officials have shifted billions of dollars to risky investments like hedge funds instead of traditional stocks and bonds. Fund leaders say it’s a way to diversify their portfolios, and they argue for patience with new investments.

But experts say the results, in most cases, have been lackluster earnings for public pension funds and a boon for Wall Street money managers.

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Could supervisor’s votes be conflicts?

Posted on 31 March 2014 (0)
Jebb Harris, Orange County Register

Jebb Harris, Orange County Register

Orange County Register

It was a cozy affair – a gathering of high-powered Orange County hospital leaders paying tribute to county Supervisor Janet Nguyen.

About 15 executives huddled with Nguyen on Feb. 28, 2012, in the Lemon Heights home of Dan Brothman, CEO of Western Medical Center Santa Ana and senior vice president of operations for Integrated Healthcare Holdings Inc. They noshed on meatballs in Brothman’s family room and inked $5,000 worth of checks for Nguyen’s summer re-election.

Brothman would later describe the fundraiser as a “meet and greet” with Nguyen.

Two days later, Nguyen voted as a trustee for Orange County’s health network for the poor – Cal-Optima – to pay $750,000 to IHHI-owned hospitals to settle a lawsuit over unpaid bills. A unanimous vote March 1, 2012, by five members of CalOptima’s board of directors was held in closed session and has still not been disclosed by CalOptima.

The 2009 breach-of-contract lawsuit by IHHI alleged CalOptima failed to pay Integrated Healthcare hospitals for $2 million worth of services to Medi-Cal patients covered by CalOptima. Court records show it is one of a number of similar suits filed by hospitals against the agency.

The Orange County Register confirmed the vote and the settlement through court documents and interviews with officials involved in the case.

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