Friday, September 17, 2021

Medicare Advantage Scams Fed Medicare System by Fabricating Medical Diagnoses - NPR

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission:

There is no question that Medicare Advantage is unsustainable in the long term. It’s driving up Part B premiums, eroding the Medicare trust fund, and costing taxpayers tens of billions a year more than traditional Medicare. The plans are also taking a toll on federal coffers, due to overpayments and disenrollments in the final year of life, among other factors. “The current state of quality reporting in [Medicare Advantage] is such that the Commission can no longer provide an accurate description of the quality of care......

UFT Plays 3 card monte with our health

Audits Of Some Medicare Advantage Plans Reveal Pervasive Overcharging

Our union leaders are leading us into the Med Adv Mob. Some might take the attitude that they don't care if the medicare system is ravished into oblivion. I don't. We need a fraud proof Medicare for all system and Med Adv profit makers are the opposite direction. Mulgrew can tell us till the cows come home how Med Adv is as good as traditional medicare --- except for the scams profit making companies are willing to pull. It's not just about them making money over cutting services but also about scamming Medicare and ultimately making it untenable for anyone.

The DOJ Says A Data Mining Company Fabricated Medical Diagnoses To Make Money

The Justice Department has accused an upstate New York health insurance plan for seniors, along with a medical analytics company the insurer is affiliated with, of cheating the government out of tens of millions of dollars.

The civil complaint of fraud, filed this week, is the first by the federal government to target a data mining company for allegedly helping a Medicare Advantage program to game federal billing regulations in a way that enables the plan to overcharge for patient treatment.

The lawsuit names as defendants the medical records review company DxID and Independent Health Association, of Buffalo, which operates two Medicare Advantage plans. Betsy Gaffney, DxID's founder and CEO, is also named in the suit. DxID, which shut down in August, is owned by Independent Health through another subsidiary.

Medicare Advantage plans are paid more for sicker patients

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) pays Medicare Advantage plans using a complex formula called a "risk score," which is intended to render higher rates for sicker patients and less for those in good health. The data mining company combed electronic medical records to identify missed diagnoses — pocketing up to 20% of new revenue it generated for the health plan.

But the Department of Justice alleges that DxID's reviews triggered "tens of millions" of dollars in overcharges when those missing diagnoses were filled in with exaggerations of how sick patients were or with charges for medical conditions the patients did not have.

In an email, Frank Sava, a spokesperson for Independent Health, stated: "We are aware of the DOJ complaint filed late [Monday] and will continue to defend ourselves vigorously against the allegations. Because this is an open case I cannot comment further."

Gaffney's lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

The DOJ complaint expands on a 2012 whistleblower suit filed by Teresa Ross, a former medical-coding official at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious health plans. Among the entities Ross sued were Group Health, DxID and Independent Health.


Ross alleged in that suit that Group Health hired DxID in 2011 to boost revenues. The company submitted more than $30 million in new disease claims — many of which were not valid, according to Ross — to Medicare on behalf of Group Health for 2010 and 2011.

A patient with an "amazingly sunny disposition" gets a label of "major depression"

For instance, Ross alleged that the plan billed for "major depression" in a patient described by his doctor as having an "amazingly sunny disposition." Group Health, now known as the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington (a company unrelated to Kaiser Health News or the Kaiser Family Foundation), denied wrongdoing. But in November 2020, the insurer settled the case by paying $6.3 million.

Now the Justice Department is taking over the case and targeting DxID for its work on behalf of both Group Health and Independent Health. The department alleges that DxID submitted thousands of "unsupported" medical condition codes on behalf of Independent Health from 2010 to 2017.

"Hopefully the case sends a message that coding companies that exist only to enrich themselves by violating many, many CMS rules will face consequences," said Max Voldman, an attorney who represents Ross.

Timothy Layton, an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School who has studied Medicare Advantage payment policy, said he has not seen the government take legal actions against data analytics companies before.

"They are often the ones doing a lot of the scraping for [billing] codes, so I wouldn't be surprised if they came under more scrutiny," Layton said.

" 'Trolling' patient medical records to gin up ... 'new' diagnoses"

In the legal complaint filed Monday, the Justice Department alleges that Gaffney pitched DxID's revenue-generating tools as "too attractive to pass up."

"There is no upfront fee, we don't get paid until you get paid and we work on a percentage of the actual proven recoveries," she wrote, according to the complaint.

The 102-page suit describes DxID's chart review process as "fraudulent" and says it "relied on 'trolling' patient medical records to gin up, in many cases, 'new' diagnoses exclusively from information derived from impermissible sources."

The complaint cites medical conditions that it says either were exaggerated or weren't supported by the medical records, such as billing for treating chronic depression that had been resolved. It also cites allegedly unsupported claims for renal failure, the most severe form of chronic kidney disease. The suit alleges that Gaffney said these cases were "worth a ton of money to IH [Independent Health] and the majority of people (over) 70 have it at some level."

The complaint says that CMS would have tried to recover money paid to the health plan improperly had it known about DxID's tactics and "has now done so via this suit."

The Justice Department is seeking treble damages in the False Claims Act suit, plus an unspecified civil penalty for each violation of the law.

Medicare Advantage, a fast-growing private alternative to original Medicare, has enrolled more than 26 million people, according to AHIP, an industry trade group.

While popular with seniors, Medicare Advantage has been the target of multiple government investigations, Justice Department and whistleblower lawsuits and Medicare audits. One 2020 report estimated improper payments to the plans topped $16 billion the previous year.

At least two dozen whistleblower cases, some dating to 2009, have alleged fraud by Medicare Advantage plans related to manipulating patient risk scores to boost revenues.

In July, the Justice Department consolidated six such cases against Kaiser Permanente health plans. In August, California-based Sutter Health agreed to pay $90 million to settle a similar fraud case. Previous settlements have totaled more than $300 million.

Kaiser Health News is a national, editorially independent newsroom and program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. KHN is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Advice on third booster shots: Hold off and take anti-body tests

Happy Yom Kippur -- Sept. 16, 2021 - I'm fasting - my wife hid all the bags of chips and that's all I want to eat. Tonight will be hog heaven without the hogs. Many Jews only use daity to break the fast and I've got my eyes on the herring in cream sauce.

[Added Sept 17 - See the anon comment for more advice with an good link to a discussion on boosters ---]

From a colleague from 50 years ago:


My son is a biologist doing cutting edge genetics research. He advises us to hold off on a booster until they develop one for the upcoming variants that will avoid the mRNA protection. 
Breakthrough for Delta means you can catch it if you have the mRNA in your body, but it will not harm you.
This protection will not wane after 8 months
The current push for boosters vs Delta is a sales pitch.

Pete Farruggio, PhD
Associate Professor, Bilingual Education (retired)
University of Texas RGV

Pete also sent this discouraging news from this link:

Covid cases rise to winter levels

History repeats. As with the 1918-20 flu epidemic, the waning of the first wave of viral spread  induced a premature relaxing of caution (e.g. reopening unsafe schools), which caused a second larger wave. This pattern caused a third wave through 1920. Instead  of vaccines, what ended the epidemic was the killing off of the more susceptible, as in previous plagues (herd immunity).

I don't want to be one of the susceptibles and was ready to take the booster in 3 weeks. But what if there is a new vax that provides more protection from variables in a few months. Do you get a 4th shot? My doc says hold off.

So I'm rethinking getting the third booster shot. Pete's advice correlates to that of my primary doc. Friends have been to him in the past few days and here is what he told them:

Our doctor does not believe in over vaccinating. He is testing for my antibody levels. When or if they are low then he recommends the booster. If they reconfigure the vaccine to deal with the variants then we can have a further discussion about boosters  ... from a friend

We use the same doctor - for the past 20 years and have gotten many of our friends to go to him too, so there is a lot of trust. Last spring he told us to not get the shingles shot yet because he felt we might need a booster in the fall. My friends did the antibody test and found they had sufficient immunity at this point. Doc says retest in 3 months. 

[ MORE info from patient with same doctor - Sept 17 --- Our doctor told us that each lab determines the antibody count in their own way so you can`t compare numbers from lab to lab. The lab where MY results will come from has 200 as the magic number of normal. Anything OVER 250 will just come back as over 250 but no further number will be given. I asked him about the benefit of having a LOT of antibodies--way higer than normal--from getting the booster now.  He said that a lot of learning is going on now about all of these things but one thing that MAY be true is that too many antibodies could interfere with the T cells and keep them from being effective at what they need to do. He said that it MAY be the case that LESS is more in this situation! He also said that if the booster was comprised with more ability to fight the Delta variant than it might be wise to get the booster sooner, but since it is NOT comprised any differently than what we already have in our systems you are not getting more of an ability to fight Delta (as long as your antibody count is normal). We will wait another 3 months and retest. When our number goes below normal is when we will take the booster. ]

Interesting. One of the right wing criticisms of Biden and vax mandates is that those who had COVID have antibodies too --- and they argue that they should not be forced to be vaxed. There is a point and I wonder if you present an anti-body test result, that counts as vaxed.

There are outbreaks in Israel which is highly vaxed with third shots. Covid seems like a raging fire which no matter what we do will find places to burn until it burns itself out --- herd immunity. 

Look at the south as cases begin to come down after their wave and now we in the northeast escaped, we will be facing a surge, based on back to work and open schools. 

You know the case they make for those who are vaxed as being safe from hospitalization or getting real sick even if you get it -- it will be mild. But I don't even want a mild case due to stories of long covid which hits 30% in some cases. I know people who are still very affected even a year and a half later. I don't need to spend the rest of my life battling issues I didn't need to battle.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Vax Mania: Are we required to stop people from committing suicide? Why stop at red lights?

If people want to risk death, must we stop them? What if their risks affects the rest of us? Do people have the personal right to drive recklessly? Why is risking the health of others and over taxing the hospital systems any more dangerous than reckless driving? 

I might also ask -- are the economics driving De Blasio to open schools a risk that touches on the same risky behavior of the unvaxed?

[Ed NotesOsterholm escalates on schools - Learning loss vs life, Minimizes masks, weekly testing, maximizes filter, airflow and more frequent testing]

By the way, I was walking past a testing truck in Manhattan on Friday and got tested  for the first time - not rapid but the nose swab - and had the results the next evening. Others standing there with me needed a test for travel before they could fly. Oh my, those damn governament regulations. I'm outraged every time I have to show my drivers license when I have to fly - and why can't I carry a box cutter onto planes?

You are 11 times more likely to die without shots -- NYT
So you might take the position of fuck em - if they want to risk death. 

Now imagine someone ready to jump off a building. Do you say fuck em? Or do you try your best to talk them out of it? Or do you get together with others and hold a blanket to try to catch them? Do you care about their pain? Or is it that you don't give a shit about them but are worried they might fall on you and kill you?

Well, there are versions of all these arguments in the vax vs anti-vax angst.

Biden's new toughness is resonating with most people who are fed up with the anti-vax personal freedom bullshit from people who have given up so much personal freedom in so many ways. Chris Wallace questioned the gov of Nebraska yesterday, who is outraged at Biden, about the loss of freedom to choose over about 10 Nebraska vax mandates in order to go back to school. The response was those vax's are tested. No more tested than the current vaccines.

So let's talk about the freedoms Biden is taking away and the over the top Republicans politicizing this. I heard George Will on NBC and Chris Christie talking about how Biden is violating the constitution - and stopping him is a higher priority than stopping people from dying. That's like telling people to jump and pulling away the blanket to catch them like Lucy does with the football. 

Like we are not in an emergency that is not only killing people but the economy. Would they worry about the constitution if it were Ebola? Didn't they suspend all airline flights for weeks after 9/11? Like a 1000 times more people have died from COVID than on 9/11. This is not an emergency?

I was frustrated that Stefanoplis and Chuck Todd didn't bring up how Lincoln threw out the constitution during the Civil War emergency. Or how FDR pushed the boundaries during the depression. 

I understand the fear of some people about vaccinations. I don't love them. I avoided the flu shot for years until my wife and my doctor scared me into them. I still don't have the shingle shot and want to get it but my doc told us to not pump too many vaccines into us in a short period of time. He told us that in May when we asked about shingles and he said we would probably need a booster in the fall. The other day he told someone to hold off on the booster as long as possible. He is wary of over vaxing. This is at least rational advice. I do want to take the booster at 8 months which for me is Oct. 10. What about the flu shot and when?

Meanwhile, watch out for the freedom from government control people when crossing the street. Stop lights are too much government control.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Osterholm escalates on schools - Learning loss vs life, Minimizes masks, weekly testing, maximizes filter, airflow and more frequent testing

Is de Blasio and his partner Mulgrew risking lives in opening schools fully (the former) and supporting people who don't want to be vaxed (the latter)? 

If you are a fan of the Osterholm weekly podcast, he just stopped short of putting De Blasio in that frame as he mocked the 3 feet distance rulings -- and said the CDC people would one day have an accounting over that issue. He also put the learning loss argument on trial. And masking too - the least effective barrier to the disease. If he had a choice between ventilation and Hepa Filters or masks, he would choose the latter. Oh, and testing once a week is a joke. He also raised the issue of economic pressure leading to bad decisions - and we can pretty much say that is the situation here in NYC ---

He said that NYC with back to school would be a bellweather for the nation. 

Oy! Good luck DeB and Mulgrew. Anyway - a must listen.

Episode 68: Recalculating Risk -

September 9, 2021

This week, Dr. Osterholm provides insight on the state of the pandemic in the US and internationally, the importance of keeping children safer as schools go back in session, and the risk of outdoor events for fully vaccinated individuals.

Email us your questions: (link sends e-mail)

Browse the podcast and CIDRAP merchandise store!

This podcast is available on Apple PodcastsSpotify and Google Podcasts. Subscribe on YouTube!

Sunday, September 12, 2021

UFT Elections: Boycott?- Why Run at all if Unity stacks the deck? - The Sunday Special

You know that bogus Einstein quote about the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different outcomes.

One thing never tried it a total boycott of UFT elections.

Sunday, Sept. 12 -- I keep asking myself this question every single election cycle. What's the point of running if you are bound to lose? Over 30 years the best the opposition could do was once win 13 Ex Bd seats (1991) and win the 7 high school seats most of the rest of the time. History counts -- the vote totals on all the elections are pretty consistent. 

Why is this year different/ (I know, it's Yom Kippur coming up, not Passover.) 

Well, there is the always eternal hope that there will be a head to head confrontation between a united opposition and Unity -- which we had (sort of) in 2016. Then there is the unpopularity of Mulgrew. Then there is the mishandling of the pandemic by the UFT on so many fronts. Then there is the union's turning off so many retirees, the lifeblood of Unity, by taking away their medicare. Then there was the OT/PT functional chapter revolt where MORE swept the chapter leader and delegate positions, a sigificant event. Then there is word from other functional chapters. Then there were the school chapter elections last year where anti-Unity voices made some headway. Then there is Educators of NYC run by Daniel Alicea who actually voted for Unity in 2019 but has become a strong critical independent voice. I bet there are a bunch of people out there like Daniel.


There is the history of elections where no matter how I get my hopes up the outcome is pretty much the same.

I was deeply involved in UFT elections in 2004, 07, 10 (ICE), 13, 16 (MORE). I was out of the 2019 elections as I was in the process of being purged from MORE for publicly disagreeing with the faction in control of MORE that engineered the decision not only to not run with other groups but to purposely run in a way to not contend for any winnable positions - A minimalist campaign for what purpose I still can't figure out. Ed Notes covered the contradiction in their position in March, 2019.

My final words to the MOREs was to either run with everyone in a serious manner to maximize the anti-Unity vote with the aim of winning the high schools and taking a serious shot at the middle schools or not run at all but use the election (which occupies a great deal of time) time saved as an organizing tool for the caucus. I told the MOREs that an election is like a high stakes test for a caucus. At the very least it must hold its own in vote totals but most people other than hard core organizers (like I was) get discouraged if these numbers don't grow. I can't tell you how many people I saw pass through the groups I was in over these 50 years.

I have been urging boycotts of UFT elections in every election since 2010 to emphasize the undemocratic nature of the UFT itself where winning an election is almost impossible. Why run of the outcome is pre-decided? John Lawhead from ICE and now Solidarity Caucus came up with the idea of uncaucusing for the elections and focusing on issues of concern to the members without engaging in the cumbersome and often distracting election process. Behind my idea was to leave the membership with no options on the ballot other than Unity as a wake-up call. I know that prospect actually scares the Unity people because it exposes them. If there were no opposition running Unity would make one up.

I was overruled every time and ended up throwing myself deep into the elections. I ran the petitioning campaigns for MORE in 2013, 2016 along with Ellen Fox. The MORE decision in 2019 relieved me of all that work and sitting out the election was a relief.

Now we are upon yet another UFT election cycle for 2022 and we are in the same position  - will the opposition come together this time with a united front challenge to Unity? So far most of the various caucus and uncaucus groups have spoken as Retiree Advocate, ICE, Solidarity, New Action, Educators of NYC - and even this lonely spot - Ed Notes - have endorsed that idea with rumors that MORE was taking a membership vote that ended Friday on a positive note.

The hard part would be to put everyone together in a room and lock the doors. The best thing about this election is that I will be outside that room blocking the exits.

Previous Ed Notes

Everything you wanted to know about UFT Elections ...

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Good luck to all On the first day of school, It's as much about testing as vaccines -

Brace yourself, everyone. The city has decided, with almost everyone in attendance, that it only needs a fraction of the testing it did when it only had a fraction of the students. If you can't see what that spells, you may just be hard of reading.  ... NYC Educator. 

Scary story: Last night we hear about a healthy late-30, early 40-ish vaxed teacher who had some mild symptoms and got tested and came up pos for covid. Important point-- he went and got tested on his own, NOT BY DOE. If he went in today he would have subjected 60 colleagues. His wife, also DOE, is getting tested but still must go into work today. They are keeping their middle school kid home and actually intended to keep the kid home all along. Both of them have been very careful with masking etc.

Today I am going into the city for the first time in 6 weeks, taking the ferry. Why am I as nervous as I was a year ago before I was even vaxed? Tell me how it is not likely I'd get real sick. That's not enough for me. I don't want to get anywhere near this virus due to possibly long-term effects. You don't end up with reduced kidney function with a cold.

Another Hidden Covid Risk: Lingering Kidney Problems › health › covid-kidney-damage
Sep 1, 2021 — Doctors are unsure why Covid can cause kidney damage. Kidneys might be especially sensitive to surges of inflammation or immune system ...
I'm 76 and in one month it will be 8 months since last vaxed and I will be first in line to get the booster.

It's now about testing, especially since there will be loads of unvaxed working in the same space.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Good morning everyone on back to school day, the most nervous day of the year for me for 35 years, but joyful for the past 19. After two months of total freedom, I was bummed but also ready to see colleagues and students and parents. Butterflies but excited butterflies.

Every single year began with some chaos in my various schools. But today I feel butterflies for all the people who have to go back in the midst of as much fear and chaos as I've every seen. Teachers in LA and Chicago, due to strong progressive unions, may feel safer than NYC school employees - due to the political ambitions of de Blasio, whose political ambitions will crash even further than they have when things fall apart.

And de Blasio will be aided by the UFT's Michael Mulgrew who, other than Unity loyalists, may be the most unpopular UFT leader in history. [Unsafe Schools at any speed --call on UFT and DOE to issue 10 foot poles to vaxed school employees].
Mulgrew and Randi actually met with the leader of the unvaxed group while ignoring the calls of the majority of UFT members calling for some remote options, not for them but for parents, whose fears that lead to them not sending their kids to school may be met by DOE investigations instead of support. Mulgrew is silent.
As Arthur points out, the reduced testing is a head scratcher.

[Sign a petition for more testing. (see below break for text.)]

If you don't follow Dr. Michael Osterholm's weekly podcasts, they are a must listen.

The Osterholm Update: COVID-19

He mocks the 3 foot distance rule and even the learning loss argument for forcing kids back to school. It's being driven by the it's the economy, stupid. Osterholm should be on TV more than Fauci -- and actually is appearing as the absolute realists. He also feels we are not doing enough testing.

Here is another must listen -- Michael Mina on Brian Lehrer advocates rapid testing as being as important as vaccines -- he even says we won't vax ourselves out of this pandemic but we can test our way out.

Brian Lehrer - Sept. 1

Michael Mina, MD, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, talks about how schools are preparing to test students, the science on boosters and who gets them, and more of the latest COVID-19 news.

Dr. Mina: Absolutely. COVID and quarantining is really an information problem. We quarantine a child and we say, "You can't go to school for 10 days because you've been exposed," because we don't know whether or not they've been infected, so we say, "Go home and quarantine." We actually have the tools now to know if they are infected and infectious and [unintelligible 00:03:35] a simple rapid test that a lot of people have now been finally hearing about.

Instead of quarantining the child or a whole classroom of children because somebody else turns up positive in the class, we can do what I call test to [unintelligible 00:03:53]. That's instead of having everyone quarantine, you just have them use a simple rapid test at home before school and you do that each day that they would otherwise be quarantining. You say, "You've been exposed potentially. We don't know if you're infected," so on Monday, use a rapid test in the morning, and if negative, go to school. Tuesday, use rapid test in the morning, and do that for the week. Most people don't actually turn positive who ended up being quarantine.

This is in a critical tool that we haven't really utilized very well at all in this pandemic to keep society running. This works for businesses, for schools. It's an information problem and we know how to solve that problem.

Brian: We always hear that the rapid tests aren't as accurate as the so-called PCR tests, the full nose swab. Are the rapid tests accurate enough for use like that and still protect the other kids in the class?

Dr. Mina: Absolutely. The rapid tests that have been authorized thus far in the United States are very accurate to answer the question, am I infectious? This is a very different question than have I been infected in the last few weeks? The question is, and why we quarantine people is we are worried about whether or not they are spreading the virus today. These rapid tests do exactly that, they detect infectiousness. I actually like to call them-- These are public health tools that I think should actually be called contagiousness indicators or something along those lines, because that's really what they excel at. They are very, very good to answer that question.

Brian: I see you have this Twitter thread going that's partly aimed at the Los Angeles public schools in particular. Is LA and outlier for some reason or typical of this issue?

Dr. Mina: This is happening all over the place. That was just one of the first big news reports to break. That was that day one, day two of school there were a huge number of quarantines and now we're seeing people and the teachers unions and such pushing for more extreme quarantines, that when one child becomes positive in a class, to quarantine the whole classroom. This is not the way to go. It wasn't last year and it still is not.

Kids have been out of school enough. The last thing we want to do in a pandemic is to have the societal ramifications be worse than the virus itself. We need to figure out and utilize the tools that we have available to us to ensure that children remain in school, to ensure that businesses keep running and we don't just keep using these brute force methods of closing things down and make major quarantines to solve a public health problem. Those solutions should be considered public health failures, and we have ways not to have to utilize those.

Petition text:

Petition for More COVID Testing in Schools
Dear Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Porter,

Everyone who works for NYCDOE must protect students’ safety. To keep our communities safer, we demand more COVID testing in New York City’s public schools.

Children aged thirteen to seventeen have the highest positivity rates in New York City. For children aged five to twelve, the positivity rate increased tenfold over the summer. In the second half of August, about one in twenty school-aged children has been testing positive. That rate translates to at least one COVID-positive student in every K-12 class in New York City.

Just when schools need more COVID testing, NYCDOE plans less. Last year, once every week, NYCDOE tested 20% of the students. This year, every OTHER week, NYCDOE will test 10%. Testing half as many kids, half as often, reduces safety. Breakthrough cases are common, but NYCDOE will not test vaccinated staff or students. NYCDOE now allows families to refuse in-school testing. We still do not have testing for 3K, pre-K, or kindergarten; citywide, that leaves about 14% of our students in classes that never get tested.

The following measures will keep our city safer:

Test 40% or more every week. Larger sample sizes detect spreading cases. More frequent testing detects cases while there’s still time to act.

Test the vaccinated. When the Delta variant breaks through, vaccinated people spread COVID. Everyone stays safer if vaccinated students participate.

Require participation. This year should be like last year: families should acknowledge that their children will be tested, but testing should not be optional.

Test early childhood. Random testing cannot monitor untested classrooms. Include 3K, 4K, and kindergarten.

Restore staff testing. Every day, principals and assistant principals enter nearly every classroom. Educational administrators travel school to school. None of us wants to pass COVID to the students we love. If administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, school aides, custodial staff and kitchen workers all test alongside our students, we know our kids are safer.

You charged us with opening schools and keeping them open. More testing leads to more early quarantining, but less testing eventually results in more cases than our city can ignore. Another systemwide shutdown would undo everyone's goals for mental health, physical wellbeing, and academic learning.

We need early detection to maintain student health and public trust. Give us more testing, more often, for much more safety.


Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Unsafe Schools at any speed --call on UFT and DOE to issue 10 foot poles to vaxed school employees

There's the old joke: 

Guy1: What are those round marks on your forehead?  Guy1: From the ten foot poles. 

The origin of the phrase not to touch people with a ten foot pole comes from previous plagues. 

If I were still working, my unvaxed colleagues would have round marks on their foreheads. Imagine you are in the staff room and one of these characters walks in to eat lunch.

I call on the UFT and de Blasio to issue ten foot poles to all vaccinated school employees. There certainly should be one in every staff room. Or just use that window opening pole.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew is working to get religious and medical exemptions from the city's COVID vaccine mandate. He should be working on getting at least as many safety precautions in the schools as there were last year when COVID was at a lower rate in NYC than it is now but instead, Mulgrew is doing his best to placate an intractable loud minority of anti-vax mandate UFTers, many of whom are anti-union. Mulgrew is part of the bipartisan consensus among Democrats and Republicans to open full in-person learning no matter what is happening with the Delta variant. How many UFT members are we talking about who aren't vaccinated?.... James Eterno, ICEUFT blog

My religion is the cult of the cat. If I were still working that's my excuse. If I were working and I knew colleagues who refused to get vaxed I'd stay so far away from them I'd need binoculars to see them. Or just walk around with a 10 foot pole.

We just might have beaten the coming Delta school-based deluge IF all teachers and eligible students had been vaccinated. But they haven't been, so here goes more lock downs. 

James has been covering the UFT capitulation to the anti-vaxers at the ICE blog. You've got to read some of the comments to see why covid test cases are rising.


We love Eduwonkette who we helped get started with her blog over 15 years ago which became one of the hottest education blogs in the nation.

My tweet in response has gotten some play:


In Rockaway, Breezy Point (11697), which is supposedly over 90% vaxed, despite being 80% Trump territory, has a 15% testing rate, possibly the highest in the city. How is that possible? A friend from Breezy told me that there is a massive amount of children with Covid. I get that about children under 12. Far Rock Zip 11691 has one of the lowest vax rates in the city -- 39% --- and also has high infection rates -- that has been throughout the epidemic -- with loads who have died. 


James followed up with a slam at the so-called "choice" people -- do they refuse to show their drivers license when they fly?


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Everything you wanted to know about UFT Elections (Part 3): How Unity Stacks the Deck - What can be done to break the stanglehold? - Norms Magnus Opus

Hi Norm - I'm a former chapter leader and recently elected UFT
I want to be a part of a movement to defeat the Unity Caucus in 2022. As a former member of Unity I see it is clearly a cult and it is so important to defeat them.... 
from a contact from UFT Delegate Assemblies.

In UFT elections, if the overwhelming majority of  70,000 classroom teachers were to vote against Unity Caucus, they would only win 23 out of 100 Executive Board and zero officer positions. And therein lies the essence of "democracy" in the UFT.

At-Large block voting—also known as the “plurality-At-Large voting method[1]—has been called the oldest trick in the book.... the web

Oy! Another election - at my age? After being deeply involved in the 04, 07, 10, 13, 16 elections? I missed the 19 election (thankfully) after the MORE Caucus purged me (double thanks, I didn't need the drama.)

This guy is right about the Unity cult but actually defeat Unity?  While there are some intriguing new possibilities for the 2022 UFT election, the first step is to understand how the process works and the enormous obstacles the anti-Unity forces face. So let's do a deep dive on the process for today's post and explore elections possibilities in follow-up posts. First -- the appetizer, which explains a lot:

Sept. 1, 2021
Good afternoon. Welcome to the September 1 jitters - and joy for retirees.

The UFT is a democratic organization --- isn't it?  

There are elections every three years (it used to be every year in the early 60s, then every two years through 2001) and the majority winner has been Unity Caucus since 1962. That is democracy. But there's democracy and there's "democracy." Let me 'splain. 

First, some basic facts:

UFT membership breakdown (all numbers approximate):

In-Service Total: 115-120,000

Classroom teachers: 70,000  

    Elementary (includes k-8): 37,000

    Middle (6-8 grades): 12,000

    HS (9-12 and 6-12): 20,000

Functional chapters - Support - Paras, secretaries, guidance, soc workers, OT/PT, attendance, home bound, speech etc. --- include non-school based teachers. etc): 45,000

Retirees are also considered functional: So add 70,000 to the 45,000- In elections, 24,000 votes are allowed and fractionalized if there more vote but in recent elections 23-24000 have voted. 
Total UFT membership: Over 185,000
If Unity wins 80% of the vote how can the UFT be undemocratic?
The Don't Give a Crap Caucus
Less than 30% vote, with retirees having the highest returns, over 40%. Over 70%of working UFT members are in the DGAC - Don't Give a Crap Caucus. A key to seriously challenging Unity is to make them give a crap.
But let's face facts: Unity gets almost 80% of those who do vote, with only high schools breaking around 50-50. How can we be critical of the leadership on democratic grounds? Maybe it's the failure of the groups opposed to Unity? They never take blame and only point fingers, which should be pointed at themselves.

But let's examine the ways the UFT is not democratic and in future posts lay out what the opposition could do to create more democracy since actually winning an entire elections is almost not possible.

Read parts1 and 2 of this series that will go on through infinity - or at least through the final outcome of the UFT/2022 election ending in May.
At-Large Elections - A key to Unity Caucus control -
The Bias of At-Large Elections: How it Works

“The Oldest Trick in the Book”

If you want to rig a local election, there’s an easier way than stuffing a ballot box, gerrymandering a district, or amassing a campaign war chest to scare off challengers. Have your city or county adopt winner-take-all “At-Large” voting, where, instead of using districts, all or most council or school committee candidates must run “at large, city or countywide.

At-Large block voting—also known as the “plurality-At-Large voting method[1]—has been called the oldest trick in the book.[2] Supreme Court Justice Ginsberg cited this method, along racial gerrymandering, as a preeminent second-generation way to deny equal opportunity for minority voters and candidates.

Congress has banned At-Large voting for all federal elections. It’s been discarded by most states. No voting method has been subject to more litigation for its discriminatory impact on local elections. Yet, while the covers are off the discriminatory impact and intent of At-Large voting, it persists in hundreds of local jurisdictions....
 Read more about at large voting

I will leave the "What can be done to break the Unity stanglehold, if anything?" to Parts 4 or 5- First let's understand how the UFT election game works.

How UFT elections work

General elections every 3 years. Next, spring 2022

Officers (12) - President, Secretary, Treasurer, and including VPs for elementary, middle and high schools. All voted for at-large - which includes retirees.*
* Until 1994, the 3 divisional VPs - elem, ms, hs - were elected by classroom teacher votes only from their division, not at-large (all union members). When Unity lost the HSVP in 1985, they changed the rules to at-large in 1994 to prevent that from happening again. 
Why is this important? Because retirees don't vote in elem, ms and hs and until 1995 they also didn't vote for the VP of each division, now, not only retirees, but every UFT member decides on the HS. MS, El Veep who are part of the 12 officers. This assures Unity total control of the Adcom, which runs the entire union. 
*** - only teachers in the schools vote for the three division VPs -- non-teachers in schools vote as functional.
Exec Bd (100 members, including the 12 officers):
The Ex Bd is a rubber stamp - it meets every 2 weeks, usually on Monday's at  PM and is open to all UFT members. It doesn't have to be a complete rubber stamp if opposition win enough seats to push back.

Just think - even with Unity dominance they still make 12% of the Ex Bd the officers. 
What about the other 88 members? How are they apportioned?

Remember this point that --- if the 70k classroom teachers were to vote against Unity, even if overwhelmingly - say 70% - they would  not even have a quarter of the Ex Bd seats, which are apportioned this way:
At large Ex Bd - 45 - add the 12 officers and Unity is guaranteed 57 EB seats, a clear majority.
Non- At-Large Ex Bd seats -- 43
Elementary: 11   Middle School: 5   High Schools: 7 - total 23
These are the most winnable positions because they are not at-large and retirees don't vote.
Functional chapters: 20  - Support personnel - a bastion of Unity support (until recently).  Retirees are part of the functional chapter and can run for these ex bd seats.

 In essence, the functional chapter functions as at-large by lumoing all the chapters together instead of each chapter getting a seat on the board. Thus, add these 20 to the 57 and you get 77, leaving only 23 winnable EB seats. In a future post I will lay out how to win these seats and posit how doing so would be a major cataclysm for Unity even it they are a minority -- it would demonstate the leadership has lost the classroom teachers.
Retiree vote
The general election is riddled with at-large voting to assure Unity Caucus of control. And a key is that retirees vote for most positions: all officers and the majority of Ex Bd seats.

There are 70,000 retirees, though the current limit is 24 thousand that count - that limit has been raised over the years and often accounts for well over 40% of the total vote.
AFT/NYSUT Delegates: 750-800
I didn't mention this category in UFT elections but it is a key to controling the state and national unions, as winner take all gives Unity all of them and is a major perk of joining Unity. If the opposition were to get 49% of the vote it would get no delegates. 

The Delegate Assembly (about 4000 members) and Chapter elections - every 3 years -- last one just ended - next 2024.
In some ways these elections are more important than the general elections as a way to challenge Unity control. The general UFT elections have no direct impact on what is termed the chief democratic body of the UFT -- the DA, which consists of all chapter leaders from the schools and functional chapters -- there are supposedly around 1800 - and school and functional based delegates in a 60-1 ratio -- Unity pushed its members to run for these positions as a way to control the DA. The retiree chapter alone gets 300 delegates winner take all Unity delegates and they play an important role. In the recent election Retiree Advocate received 30% of the vote and no delegates. Imagine how retired UFT opposition activists could bring their experience to delegate assemblies. 

Generally, no more than 700 show up, mostly Unity Caucus, with a handful of opposition people.
These elections are important because if the opposition ever could elect a few hundred and they acted together, they could begin to take some control over the Delegate Assembly -- though if they ever got close, Unity would change the rules. 
MORE claims to have elected 100 and other groups also elected people -- if they all work together --- rather than each caucus use the DA to focus on its own caucus building -- there could be an impact to counter Unity dominance of the DA. Caucus hegemony has been one of the major obstacles to mounting an effective opposition.
We will know where things stand at the first DA of this new 3 year cycle in October. Meeting in person is a threat to Unity so don't be shocked to see the leadership use the pandemic as an excuse to move that meeting to Zoom, while at the same time advocating for teacher to go into classrooms.

More to come on where things stand in forming a united front, the only way to challenge Unity. Here are a few previous posts:

The United Front: Retiree Advocate/UFT brings frie...

Retiree Advocate/UFT Caucus joins call for United ...

UFT Elections  ICE/UFT meeting calls for united front...

Monday, August 30, 2021

Retiree Advocate/UFT Caucus joins call for United Slate for UFT elections in 2022 and joint cooperation on common issues

Retiree Advocate/UFT posted this notice calling for a united opposition in the 2022 UFT elections.  

August 30, 2021

Retiree Advocate, a caucus in the UFT, calls on all opposition caucuses and non-affiliated individuals within the UFT to come together and form a full and united slate to run against the Unity Caucus in the 2022 United Federation of Teachers union-wide elections. 
Our goal is to transform the Retired Teachers’ Chapter (RTC) into one that is democratic, powerful and responsive to the members and not simply a calling card for the UNITY leadership.
The Unity caucus leadership, in power for 60 years, has felt free to engage in actions that are detrimental to the interests of the membership.
Retiree Advocate urges further cooperation during the upcoming school year on points of common interest such as, lowering class size, fighting against changes to in-service and retiree member health care, rights of members to a healthy and safe teaching and working environment and advocating for a more democratic UFT.  
Only a credible threat from a broad based opposition that threatens Unity's hold on the union can force the UFT leadership to be more accountable to the membership. 

What is Retiree Advocate/UFT?

We are a caucus in the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Our goal is to transform the Retired Teachers’ Chapter (RTC) into one that is democratic, powerful and responsive to the members and not simply a calling card for the UNITY leadership. To do this, our chapter must critically evaluating leadership’s policies & programs and create real alternatives that protect retirees, support working members and fight for social and economic justice for NYC’s public education school communities. We believe that the Unity caucus leadership, in power for 60 years, has felt free to engage in actions that are detrimental to the interests of the membership. Witness the recent undemocratic decision to convert our traditional Medicare coverage to a privately managed Medicare Advantage Plan. We were able to alert the membership about this deceptive action. Only a credible threat from a broad based opposition that threatens their hold on the union can force the UFT leadership including our chapter (RTC) to be more accountable to the membership moving forward. We have been running slates in UFT elections for 20 years. Our program can be viewed here-

RA-UFT Platform. This past April we received practically 30 percent of the vote, our highest ever!

We need you to join us so that we can continue to grow, achieve our goals and take control of OUR union.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Calls for remote, sickouts in Chicago and maybe NYC: What does a safe, equitable & responsive NYC school reopening look like? WBAI Talk

An excellent discussion of safe schools yesterday with Daniel hosting Kaliris and Tajh. If you missed it:

There are increasing demands for a remote option, which the de Blasio admin with the help of the NYT pro-school opening and damn the torpedoes ed reporter Eliza Shapiro doing the cheerleading. For two years in a row the DOE, with the silent complicity of the UFT, has bunged remote options as they go on a wing and a prayer schools will be normal. They won't and watch how they have to scurry to make up ground -- compare to LA and Chicago where strong unions  have an impact. I even heat talk about sickouts in NYC --- not clear if this is from parents who will keep kids hone or teachers who will come down with the ed flu.




While the UFT namby pamies, other unions are out there: 

At a news conference outside the CUNY Office of Graduate Studies in midtown Manhattan, James Davis, president of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), which represents 30,000 CUNY employees, called the the city's plan to monitor and reduce the spread of the virus on CUNY campuses "inadequate" and "contradictory."

Before listening to this I checked out Michael Osterholm's must listen weekly podcast which echoed similar themes of safety - he took the CDC to task for putting social issues like kids having to be in school over their safety. Osterholm seems to have moved from opposing a booster shot to being more willing  - especially for elderly like me -- I'm ready to line up the minute they say I can. After all, I'm a proven sheeple.

Osterholm Update: COVID-19

Episode 66: Thank You Dr. Jena

August 26, 2021

In this episode, Dr. Osterholm and host Chris Dall discuss the news of FDA granting full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, updates on booster doses and the rationale being considered, and the need for updated guidance as schools reopen.

Email your questions: (link sends e-mail)

View photos of Carl's beautiful place.


Browse the podcast and CIDRAP merchandise store!

This podcast is available on Apple PodcastsSpotify and Google Podcasts. Subscribe on YouTube!

Also worth reading is Arthur on deB: NYC Educator

Mayor de Blasio Does Own Research, Errs on Side of Convenience Rather than Caution  

It's pretty clear that commercial real estate and business interests dominate the school decision making.

There are calls for sickouts in Chicago starting tomorrow let by the union in response to the mayor. You might want to compare the CTU, the UTLA with the uft - small letters intentional.


Here is Daniel's post for the Talk Out of Schools program:

Hello, New York City public school family!

What does a safe, equitable & responsive NYC school reopening look like?

Daniel Alicea, NYC educator, will discuss it on 'Talk Out of School' with Tajh Sutton and Dr. Kaliris Salas-Ramirez, two extraordinary parent activists and advocates, in a special broadcast about the fall reopening of New York City public schools.

Catch the show today, Saturday, Aug. 28th, at 1 PM, on WBAI 99.5. FM or also listen live online at

Dr. Kaliris Salas Ramirez is an NYC public school parent who is a neuroscientist and professor for CUNY School of Medicine. She is also the president for Community Education Council 4, in Manhattan, and a steering committee member for Parents for Responsive, Equitable, and Safe Schools (PRESS).

Tajh Sutton is an NYC public school parent who is an arts educator and the program director for Teens Take Charge. She is also the president for Community Education Council 14, in Brooklyn, and a steering committee member for Parents for Responsive, Equitable and Safe Schools (PRESS).

To learn more about PRESS visit their site:

It's a can't miss event.

If you can't make it, listen to the podcast here later:

Love wins.

#protectNYC #protectNYCkids #remoteoption now #shutdownforsafety