Tag Archives: greg zoeller

Attorney General returns record amount of unclaimed property in 2013

11 Dec

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced today that the Unclaimed Property Division has recently broken its record for the most claims paid in a single calendar year. With more than $58 million in claims paid, the division has beaten its goal of breaking the 2006 record which stood at $53.9 million.
“It’s great to break this record, especially knowing it benefits our fellow Hoosier citizens,” Zoeller said. “This is a result of greater use of social media to get the word out about where to find their money but mostly it’s from the hard work of the men and women who serve in our Unclaimed Property division.”
In total, the state’s unclaimed property database holds more than $380 million in assets. In 2012, the Attorney General’s Office returned 85,150 properties totaling $44.8 million in unclaimed property. To date this year, 93,615 properties valued at $58,480,934.88 have been returned.
Several of the factors that have contributed to this record include increased reporting compliance, improved search tools on IndianaUnclaimed.gov, a new mobile app, increased online marketing, the addition of a proactive investigator, and the hard work of an experienced claim staff.
Zoeller, along with Buck the Money Dog, visited the unclaimed property office today to celebrate the milestone and encourage everyone to visit www.IndianaUnclaimed.gov to search for their name, their relatives, neighbors and friends’ names. “The holidays are a great time to look for unclaimed funds for your family, friends and neighbors, helping others is in keeping with the spirit of the season,” Attorney General Zoeller said. The Indiana Unclaimed Property database is also mobile. Anyone can search for free through the mobile application — just use keyword Indiana Unclaimed to download. The app makes it easy to look for unclaimed property. Business owners and charitable organizations should also check annually for unclaimed property.
The Unclaimed Property database can be searched 24-hours a day, 7 days a week at the toll-free number is 1-866-IN-CLAIM (1-866-462-5246). This is a free service of the Indiana Attorney General’s Office.

State appeals tobacco arbitration ruling

5 Dec

INDIANAPOLIS — Today Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office appealed the recent arbitration panel ruling that reduces by $62.8 million the amount tobacco companies pay to Indiana to offset the costs of smoking-related illnesses.
As the lawyer for State government, Zoeller contends the arbitration panel of three retired federal judges exceeded their authority under law and the process they used prejudiced Indiana’s case. The panel unfairly judged Indiana by using a new legal definition they created after the fact and imposed retroactively; and the panel based their ruling on erroneous findings and disregarded the State’s own laws. After consulting with the legislative and executive branches, Zoeller’s office today appealed the arbitration panel’s ruling by filing a “motion to vacate” in Marion County Civil Superior Court in Indianapolis. That court retains jurisdiction over the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between Indiana and the major tobacco companies, and has jurisdiction to hear this appeal of the arbitration panel’s ruling.
Zoeller’s office asks the Marion County court to vacate the arbitration panel’s entire award, or, in the alternative, modify the amount received. Zoeller seeks a reallocation of the amount tobacco companies pay Indiana and other states, so that Indiana would receive an amount closer to the $131.2 million payment projected and not the $68.4 million Indiana would otherwise receive next April as a result of the panel’s actions. Settlement monies that tobacco companies pay Indiana under the MSA indirectly reimburse the State for the medical costs to taxpayers of smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema; and the funds are used for tobacco-cessation efforts.
“Fifteen years after signing the Master Settlement Agreement that was intended to bring some closure to the issue, the big tobacco companies continue to wage a legal battle against Indiana and other states to reduce their settlement payment for the consequences of their product on the costs of health care for our citizens. Triggered by the tobacco companies themselves, this arbitration process was extremely complex, and the panel’s fundamentally flawed ruling treated Indiana unfairly compared to similar states. Through this legal action we seek ultimately to restore the tobacco payments to Indiana to more equitable levels,” Attorney General Zoeller said.
At issue in the arbitration panel’s hearings was how “diligently” Indiana enforced the MSA in 2003. In the motion, Indiana objects strenuously to the arbitration panel’s creating a new definition of “diligent enforcement” after more than a year of hearings were complete and applying it retroactively long after Indiana had finished presenting its case. Moreover, 20 other states that settled rather than continue with the laborious arbitration process were not held to the newly-created “diligent enforcement” standard Indiana was subjected to. Their settlement also adversely affected the allocation of payment reductions to non-settling states. The motion notes the panel got basic facts wrong in their analysis of enforcement efforts Indiana officials undertook going back to 2002. See this excerpt from page 24 of the motion to vacate:
“In addition to irrationally faulting Indiana for things it did not do (incorrectly asserting that it did not establish its Tobacco Enforcement Unit until October 2003) and not acknowledging the many positive things it did do (filing 14 lawsuits when other states filed none), the panel manifestly disregarded the very framework it used to determine whether a state was diligent or not. Thus, the panel applied its own factors in an entirely arbitrary and internally inconsistent fashion, or departed from them entirely.”
A hearing date has not yet been scheduled on the state’s motion to vacate. Among the defendants are the major tobacco companies often referred to as the “Participating Manufacturers” or PMs including the corporate parent of Philip Morris Tobacco Company, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the Lorillard Tobacco Company and several other cigarette manufacturers.

AG Zoeller Announces Settlement with Google Over Privacy Settings

19 Nov

Gazette Staff

 

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced a multistate settlement agreement today with Google Inc. for allegedly overriding Safari’s internet browser security settings to collect valuable user information.

Through its DoubleClick advertising platform, Google generates revenue by facilitating the transmission of third-party cookies — small files set in Internet users’ Web browsers that allow third-party advertisers to gather information about those users, including, depending on the type of cookie, their Web surfing habits.

Zoeller along with the Attorneys General of 36 States and the District of Columbia accused Google of circumventing the privacy settings which would have blocked all third party cookies. Zoeller said the company’s actions were in violation of state consumer protection and related computer privacy laws.

“Google allegedly circumvented Safari’s default privacy settings – without consumers’ consent – to allow third-party advertisers to set cookies in order to better target advertisements to consumers,” Zoeller said. “Unsuspecting Safari users continued to believe that cookies were automatically blocked. Today’s settlement underscores the continuing need for states to ensure consumers’ privacy remains protected.”

Apple’s Safari Web browser generally blocks third-party cookies in its default privacy settings, including cookies used by DoubleClick to track a consumer’s browsing history. From June 1, 2011 until Feb. 15, 2012, Google altered its DoubleClick coding to circumvent the Safari default privacy settings, without consumers’ knowledge or consent, enabling advertisers to set third-party cookies on consumers’ Safari browsers. Google disabled this coding method in February 2012 after the practice was widely reported on the Internet and in media.

In order to resolve the allegations, Google agreed to pay the attorneys general $17 million and Indiana’s share is $354,573. Google also agreed to injunctive relief that requires it to do the following:

  • Not to override a browser’s cookie blocking settings without the consumer’s consent or unless it is necessary to so in order to detect, prevent or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues.
  • Not misrepresent or omit material information to consumers about how Google serves advertisements to their browsers.
  • Improve the information it provides to consumers regarding cookies, their purposes, and how they can be managed by consumers using Google’s products or services.
  • Maintain systems designed to ensure the expiration of the third-party cookies placed on Safari browsers while their default settings had been circumvented.

Rx Drug Task Force launches toolkit

11 Nov

INDIANAPOLIS – Attorney General Greg Zoeller joined the Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force today to launch a toolkit designed to help the state’s physicians navigate new rules for prescribing addictive pain medication. Zoeller made the announcement during the 4th Annual Prescription Drug Abuse Symposium in Indianapolis. Indiana’s Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force in partnership with the Indiana State Medical Association developed the toolkit titled, “First Do No Harm: The Indiana Healthcare Providers Guide to the Safe, Effective Management of Chronic Non-Terminal Pain.”This provider toolkit is based on expert opinion and recognized standards of care, with input from healthcare providers representing multiple specialties from all corners of the state,” Zoeller said. “It is our hope this new resource helps physicians understand and comply with the new prescribing rule recently adopted by the Medical Licensing Board. The new rule addresses the prescribing of pain medication for patients who have chronic, non-terminal pain in hopes of stemming the tides of addiction, doctor shopping and overprescribing.”

A recent study by Trust for America’s Health revealed the number of deaths caused by overdoses in Indiana has quadrupled since 1999This year, the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation which charged the Medical Licensing Board with developing new rules regarding prescribing controlled substances and strengthening the authority of the Attorney General’s office to inspect physician records in overprescribing cases. The two emergency rules stem in part from recommendations made by the task force.
Zoeller said the prescribing rule, adopted last week, aims to ensure patients are well informed about their prescriptions and physicians closely monitor patients to identify cases of misuse and abuse. Beginning Dec. 15, physicians will be required to monitor certain patient’s history via the state’s drug monitoring system called INSPECT which reveals what medications have been prescribed to a patient. Zoeller said this check can prevent someone from “doctor shopping” or obtaining multiple prescriptions for the same drug from different physicians
“The toolkit was developed by a diverse group of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, academics and public health professionals from across the state,” McMahan said. “Our goal is to educate Indiana healthcare providers on why these state-of-the art recommendations for safe prescribing are important and how to easily implement them in everyday practice. To help with that effort, the toolkit provides resources, templates and even talking points for those difficult-to-start conversations with patients.Zoeller said the growing number of cases involving licensed health professionals caught diverting drugs, overprescribing or fraudulently writing prescriptions is one reason he created the Prescription Drug Abuse Taskforce in 2012. Zoeller chairs the task force which is made up of state legislators, law enforcement, health officials, pharmacists, state and local agencies and education providers.

Earlier this year, Zoeller and the task force launched a statewide public awareness campaign and a website, http://www.BitterPill.IN.gov, to serve as a one-stop-shop for consumers looking for information about prescription drug abuse and where to find help.

State of Indiana & 15 School Corps Sue IRS Over Obamacare

9 Oct

Gazette Staff

INDIANAPOLIS – The State of Indiana and 15 school corporations filed a lawsuit today against the Internal Revenue Service, challenging a new IRS regulation that imposes the costly “employer mandate” requirements of the Affordable Care Act onto state and local governments. The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgments and injunctions that would prevent the IRS from financially penalizing the State and its political subdivisions. They contend the Affordable Care Act or ACA as passed by Congress does not allow financial penalties in states that did not create their own health insurance exchanges; and that the financial penalties – which are based on the total number of employees – cannot be applied to government employers.

“This case is about the fundamental relationship between the State and federal government.  We respect the United States Supreme Court’s ruling last year upholding the individual mandate to buy health insurance; but it did not address the recent IRS regulations extending the reach of the ACA’s employer mandate.  We contend the ACA improperly regulates sovereign states and does not authorize the IRS to do what it is doing in treating the State as a taxable entity.  We are raising this respectful challenge for the federal courts to decide these questions,” Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said.  As the lawyer for state government, Zoeller’s office filed the lawsuit today in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

Joining the State as co-plaintiffs are 15 Indiana school corporations:

• Metropolitan School District of Martinsville, Martinsville, Ind.

• Perry Central Community Schools, Leopold, Ind.

• Benton Community School Corporation, Fowler, Ind.

• Community School Corporation of Eastern Hancock County, Charlottesville, Ind.

• John Glenn School Corporation, Walkerton, Ind.

• Monroe-Gregg School District, Monrovia, Ind.

• Mooresville Consolidated School Corporation, Mooresville, Ind.

• North Lawrence Community Schools, Bedford, Ind.

• Northwestern Consolidated School District of Shelby County, Fairland, Ind.

• Shelbyville Central Schools, Shelbyville, Ind.

• Southwest Parke Community School Corporation, Montezuma, Ind.

• Vincennes Community School Corporation, Vincennes, Ind.

• Madison Consolidated Schools, Madison, Ind.

• South Henry School Corporation, Straughn, Ind.

• Southwestern Jefferson County Consolidated School Corporation, Hanover, Ind.

As political subdivisions of the State, school corporations are faced with reducing the hours of their part-time employees in order to avoid the financial penalties of the IRS regulation under the employer mandate.

“The costly and burdensome employer mandate the IRS wrongly applies to government employers such as our school corporation interferes with our ability to efficiently manage our workforce. We always strive to be good stewards of tax dollars in educating our community’s students, but our school corporation’s efforts are undermined by the IRS overstepping its bounds that Congress set.  As public servants who revere the Constitution, we join with the State in asking the federal court to correct the IRS’s overreach,” said Assistant Superintendent Randy Taylor of MSD of Martinsville.

 

As passed by Congress in 2010, the Affordable Care Act permits states to decide whether to operate their own health insurance exchanges or leave that task for the federal government. The unambiguous wording of the ACA says that citizens in a state with a state-run exchange can qualify for federally subsidized insurance; while citizens in states with a federally run exchange can use the exchange to shop for coverage, but will not qualify for federally subsidized insurance. Though some states have chosen to create their own state exchanges, seven states chose hybrid federal-state exchanges and 27 states including Indiana declined to create exchanges.  Since Indiana declined, the ACA therefore required the federal government to operate an exchange useable by Indiana citizens; it opened October 1.

The IRS also administers the federal premium subsidies available to those citizens who use exchanges. In May, the IRS issued a regulation that goes beyond what Congress authorized, contrary to the specific language of the ACA statute.  The IRS regulation offers federal insurance premium subsidies in all states, not just those the ACA specified. That regulation in turn has the effect of charging a future financial penalty against non-compliant employers in all states, even though the ACA that Congress passed authorizes the penalty to be collected only in states where a state-established exchange exists.

By exceeding the specific authority Congress granted it, the IRS is interfering with the State’s ability to manage its own employees and thwarting the State’s policy to avoid employer mandate penalties – and that in turn violates the Tenth Amendment, the ACA and the Administrative Procedure Act, the lawsuit alleges. The plaintiffs ask the federal court to issue an injunction blocking the IRS regulation and resulting penalties from being applied against the State and school corporations since that is contrary to the ACA.  Also, the plaintiffs ask the federal court to issue a declaratory judgment finding the IRS regulation and associated tax reporting and certification requirements unconstitutional and void under the Tenth Amendment.

Among the issues with the penalties faced by employers who don’t provide minimal essential health coverage: The employer mandate defines “full-time” as working 30 hours per week on average. That federal definition conflicts with state government’s longtime personnel policy that defines state employees as full time — and eligible for insurance benefits — if they work 37.5 hours per week or more. Full-time state employees already are eligible for health insurance but part-time state employees are not.  A preliminary analysis found the State has fewer than 65 part-time employees who work an average of at least 30 hours per week but fewer than 37.5 hours who would be considered “full time” under the ACA.

Under the employer mandate, large employers who do not offer minimum essential coverage face penalties of $2,000 per employee for all full-time employees in the organization (after the first 30), even if just one employee obtains federally-subsidized insurance through the IRS regulation. For example, if a private company employing 1,000 people does not offer minimum essential coverage and some workers then obtain subsidized coverage through health-care exchanges, the IRS could impose penalties of $2,000 for 970 employees, or a total $1.94 million.  For State government, with approximately 28,000 employees in the executive branch (not including the legislative and judicial branches), the potential penalty for non-compliance could be approximately $56 million or more.  Although the U.S. Treasury Department issued a July 2 statement announcing its intention to postpone enforcement of the financial penalties until 2015, Zoeller said the lack of a formal legally binding document and the potentially draconian penalty amounts prompted the plaintiffs to seek relief from the court.

Zoeller reiterated the IRS regulation potentially subjecting the State to financial penalties it would not otherwise face is contrary to the actual wording of the ACA.  But to mitigate the risk of financial penalties due to the lack of a state exchange, the State Personnel Department recently notified agencies that the State’s definition of “part-time” employee is being reduced from less than 37.5 hours to less than 30 hours per week – below the threshold where either employer-sponsored coverage or federally-subsidized insurance would be triggered.

“It’s very unfortunate that by unconstitutionally interfering with our state personnel policy, the IRS has caused hardship not only to the State but to a number of our state employees who will see their hours reduced through no fault of their own, and it inflicts similar injuries on schools and local governments and their part-time employees,” Zoeller said. One issue in the lawsuit is whether the federal government through the IRS can treat the State government and its political subdivisions as taxable entities like private businesses. The plaintiffs contend it cannot.

School corporations who employ part-time workers – such as instructional aides for learning disabled students, substitute teachers, part-time coaches and extra-curricular staff or cafeteria workers – have already reduced the hours of non-benefit-eligible employees in order to avoid financial penalties, the Attorney General added.

Zoeller said it is up to federal policymakers in Congress, not the IRS, to decide whether to extend federal insurance premium subsidies into states that do not have state-run exchanges. He noted the focus of the lawsuit is not directly about whether private-sector workers should be able to purchase insurance at subsidized rates; that’s a decision for Congress. But State government should not be saddled with potentially huge financial penalties because the IRS promulgated a rule that Congress never approved, Zoeller said.

In May 2010, representing Indiana, Zoeller’s office joined the 26-state legal challenge to the constitutionality of newly-passed Affordable Care Act.  The United States Supreme Court in June 2012 upheld the ACA’s individual mandate, as a tax. But the Court struck down a portion of the federal health care law that would have required states to dramatically expand Medicaid or forgo the program entirely. Zoeller noted U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion striking down the mandatory Medicaid expansion opened the door to states bringing new legal challenges to other portions of the ACA.

“The fact that many citizens lack health insurance is an issue for policymakers, and my office takes no position regarding the congressional debate over funding the ACA.  I never complain when private plaintiffs file lawsuits to challenge the state authority that my office defends; but now our role is reversed and Indiana has initiated this lawsuit asking the court whether the IRS has exceeded its federal taxing authority over state governments. This respectful challenge is an appropriate role for the Office of the Attorney General to vigorously assert the ability of the State and its political subdivisions to manage their workforces in our American system of federalism,” Zoeller said.