Sunday, March 29, 2015

Most Recent Works

(in reverse chronological order)

"Survival of the Sickest: "Health Insurer Assurant Settles Discrimatory Pricing Complaint,"  Murray Waas, International Business Times, July 10, 2015.

When executives at Assurant Health announced last month that the company would be going out of business, they blamed Obamacare. And they had a point. The sweeping healthcare revision outlawed one of Assurant's most profitable practices: charging its sickest customers higher prices or pulling their coverage entirely.

A complaint the company settled with Montana’s commissioner of securities and insurance, made public Thursday, offers a glimpse into how Assurant Health does business even as it winds down operations. The complaint alleged that the insurer discriminated against less-healthy customers and manipulated prices. In settling the allegations made by the state’s insurance commissioner, Assurant did not admit to any wrongdoing, but it agreed to pay $1.7 million in refunds to Montana customers and a $25,000 fine to the state. The settlement was signed July 1.

Assurant Health’s accusation that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) killed its earnings turns out to be true. Assurant’s decline illustrates the law’s effectiveness as a tool for preventing discriminatory practices in health coverage. Assurant Health, which once provided more than 1 million Americans with health insurance, generated $1.9 billion in revenue in 2014 but posted a loss of $64 million. In the first quarter of 2015 alone, it lost $84 million. The company’s profits sank at least in part because it could no longer engage in what federal and state regulators say were unethical practices to rid its rolls of the sickest patients. The ACA made many such practices illegal...

But allegations in the Montana insurance commissioner’s complaint illustrate that Assurant Health -- even as it’s shutting down -- has continued to engage in practices that are no longer legal.
Commissioner Monica J. Lindeen’s complaint alleged Assurant charged two prices for the same health-insurance policies: a lower price for healthier customers and a higher price for sicker Montanans. Lindeen said Assurant Health offered what it called “discounts” to customers who had very few health-insurance claims...

More serious allegations in the past centered on claims that Assurant engaged in a practice known as “rescission” or “post-claims underwriting” in which the company conducted aggressive investigations of customers diagnosed with life-threatening and expensive illnesses -- such as cancer, HIV or lymphoma -- to find some pretext to cancel their policies. Investigations between 2005 and 2010 by state and federal regulators, as well as a U.S. House of Representatives committee concluded that very rarely was a customer’s health insurance canceled for a legitimate reason.

The practice of rescission largely ended as a result of a national outcry following reports that WellPoint, then the nation’s largest health insurer, had specifically targeted women with breast cancer for investigation and cancellation. President Obama and his administration condemned the conduct and pressed WellPoint to stop. WellPoint announced it would end the practice and soon the entire health insurance industry agreed to do the same, ending decades-long practices by WellPoint, Assurant and other companies...

"Justice Department Officials Slam Obama Administration For Not Enforcing Law Barring States From Jailing Too Many Youths With Adults," Murray Waas, International Business Times.

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is failing to sanction states that house excessive numbers of teenagers and children in adult jails and prisons, placing them at greater risk for violent attacks, sexual assaults and suicide, two career Justice Department employees plan to testify Tuesday in front of a Senate panel.
Under a 1974 law known as the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the Justice Department is required to sharply curtail some federal aid to state governments when those states incarcerate too many juveniles and children in adult jails and prisons. The law also demands that the federal government withhold such funds from states that lock up large numbers of so-called status offenders -- children and teens who have engaged in minor offenses such as truancy, curfew violations, drinking alcohol or running away from home.
The law was later amended to require the Justice Department to also cut grant money to states that fail to make fixes after the determination that their criminal justice systems hold "disproportionate" numbers of minority youths.
The two career Justice Department officials are expected to testify that the Obama administration is in violation of federal law by continuing to provide these funds to eight jurisdictions that do not meet one or more of those standards: Virginia, Illinois, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Idaho and Alabama, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico...

"Allen Stanford Files 299-Page Appeal for 110-Year Sentence," Michael Lindenberger and Murray Waas, Dallas Morning News, October 5, 2014.

WASHINGTON — Even tucked away inside a high-security federal prison in Central Florida, former Houston billionaire banker Allen Stanford is still thinking big — and flouting the rules.

Stanford filed a 299-page brief last month with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, making no fewer than 15 lengthy arguments about why he should be set free. He was convicted in 2012 on 13 felony charges related to America’s second-largest Ponzi scheme ever and sentenced to 110 years in prison.

Before being halted by a federal judge in Dallas in 2009, Stanford’s fraud had drawn in more victims than any other investment scheme in American history. There are more than 18,000 outstanding claims from defrauded investors and thousands more under review.
Investors had deposited about $5.5 billion with Stanford, and so far just $72 million has been repaid to investors...

"Inside the Grand Jury: "Why Texas Governor Rick Perry Was Charged With Two Felonies," Murray Waas, Vice, August 16, 2014.

A grand jury indicted Texas governor Rick Perry late yesterday on two felony charges alleging that he had abused his public office and engaged in the coercion of another public official—a district attorney who was investigating Perry’s administration and political backers.

The criminal charges stem from Perry using the official powers of his office as governor to attempt to remove Rosemary Lehmberg, a Travis County district attorney, from office, while Lehmberg was investigating allegations that Perry’s political allies and campaign contributors had received preferential treatment while obtaining grants from a Texas state cancer-fighting agency.

After Lehmberg pleaded guilty to drunk driving charges last year, Perry vetoed a $7.5 million appropriation by the state legislature to fund the Travis County Public Integrity Unit of the district attorney’s office. Perry said he vetoed the funding for the anti-corruption unit because the drunk driving charges proved that Lehmberg was unfit for office—while others viewed the governor’s actions as an attempt to stymie and defund an investigation of many of Perry’s closest political associates as Perry himself was preparing his second run for the presidency...

"Ex SEC Regulator Spencer Barasch Resigns From Lawfirm Amid Questions About His Work for Ponzi Fraudster Allen Stanford,"  Murray Waas, Vice, July 24, 2014.

A former senior Securities and Exchange Commission official, Spencer Barasch, quietly resigned earlier this month as a partner at the Texas law firm Andrews Kurth after facing intensifying scrutiny of his legal work for Houston financier R. Allen Stanford, who is serving a 110-year prison sentence for masterminding a $7 billion Ponzi scheme.

Barasch stepped down as Andrews Kurth's head of corporate governance and securities practice not long after a five-part series published by VICE detailed previously undisclosed potential violations of federal conflict-of-interest laws by Barasch while representing Stanford and raised questions as to whether Barasch had given false and misleading testimony to federal investigators to conceal from them the nature of that legal work.

Barasch’s resignation also came shortly after the settlement of a bruising legal malpractice case against Andrews Kurth by a real estate developer. The plaintiff had alleged that his company received substandard legal advice from the law firm because of the firm’s dual representation of the developer and Stanford for the very same real estate transaction...

"The Derailment of the SEC, Part V: "Why a Respected Law Firm Allegedly Risked Breaking the Law Representing a Rogue Billionaire," Murray Waas, Vice, June 18, 2014.

A former Securities and Exchange Commission official and his law firm sought millions of dollars in new legal business in 2006 from financier R. Allen Stanford—during the same period of time the law firm had agreed to defend Stanford before the SEC, despite warnings from the SEC’s ethics counsel that any such representation would be illegal.

Stanford lavished lucrative legal business on former SEC enforcement officer Spencer C. Barasch and the Houston law firm of Andrews Kurth, where Barasch is a partner, to persuade them to defend him before the SEC. Initially, in 2005, Barasch and Andrews Kurth turned Stanford down when he asked them to represent him before the SEC, telling him that to do so would violate federal conflict-of-interest laws. In 2006, however, Barasch ignored the legal prohibition and agreed to do so anyway.

Confidential Andrews Kurth billing records show that in 2006, while Stanford was pressing Barasch and Andrews Kurth to defend him before the SEC, Stanford hired the law firm to represent him on seven other legal matters, adding an eighth in 2007. In addition, according to a former Andrews Kurth employee, Barasch told his fellow partners that they stood to earn as much as $2 million a year for defending Stanford before the SEC. Previously, Stanford had been only a relatively modest client for the law firm. Barasch and Andrews Kurth declined to comment for this story.

"Romney Rejected Birth Certificates for Gay Parents," Murray Waas, Boston Globe,  October 25, 2012.

It seemed like a minor adjustment. To comply with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that legalized gay marriage in 2003, the state Registry of Vital Records and Statistics said it needed to revise its birth certificate forms for babies born to same-sex couples. The box for “father” would be relabeled “father or second parent,’’ reflecting the new law.

But to then-Governor Mitt Romney, who opposed child-rearing by gay couples, the proposal symbolized unacceptable changes in traditional family structures.

He rejected the Registry of Vital Records plan and insisted that his top legal staff individually review the circumstances of every birth to same-sex parents. Only after winning approval from Romney’s lawyers could hospital officials and town clerks across the state be permitted to cross out by hand the word “father’’ on individual birth certificates, and then write in “second parent,’’ in ink...
"No Menton of 'Transgender' 'Bisexual' Under Romney," Christopher Rowland and Murray Waas, Boston Globe, June 12, 2012.

Former governor Mitt Romney’s administration in 2006 blocked publication of a state antibullying guide for Massachusetts public schools because officials objected to use of the terms “bisexual’’ and “transgender’’ in passages about protecting certain students from harassment, according to state records and interviews with current and former state officials.
Romney aides said publicly at the time that publication of the guide had been delayed because it was a lengthy document that required further review. But an e-mail authored in May of that year by a high-ranking Department of Public Health official - and obtained last week by the Globe through a public records request - reflected a different reason.

“Because this is using the terms ‘bisexual’ and ‘transgendered,’ DPH’s name may not be used in this publication,’’ wrote the official, Alda Rego-Weathers, then the deputy commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health....