Consumers Council of Missouri held its annual meeting on Monday, December 7, 2015, in the SEIU conference room. In attendance were board members Joyce Armstrong, Ray Hartmann, Jackie Hutchinson, Renee Marver, Cara Spencer, Les Sterman, and Ed Weisbart, with Wayne Goode and Tracy McCreery on the phone. Also attending were John Coffman, utility consumer counsel, and Joan Bray, executive director.
One board member, Renee Marver, was unanimously re-elected for avthree-year term. Holly Vavrek declined to stand for re-election because her new job and her relocation to Colorado Springs prevented her from being as active as she wanted. One new board member, Chelsea Mérta, was elected for a three-year term. Officers elected were: Jackie Hutchinson, president; Ed Weisbart, vice president; and Cara Spencer, secretary/treasurer. Board members agreed that Jackie and Ed would served during Joan’s transition out as executive director and a new executive director is transitioning in.
The following Annual Report represents a summary of CCM’s activities for 2015:
CCM had a busy year at the Public Service Commission, with cases and rule making. Led by John Coffman, Utility Consumer Counsel, CCM:
- Intervened in KCP&L’s rate case, which resulted in the company getting far less than it asked for – an 11.7% rate increase (15.8% requested); a profit reduction to 9.5% from 9.7%; and a fixed residential customer charge of 11.8% ($25 requested).
- Intervened in Ameren Missouri’s rate case, which resulted in residential customers getting a 5.1% rate increase (9.65% requested); corporate profit reduced to 9.53% from 9.8%; and the fixed residential customer charge remaining at $8. Several bonus rate mechanisms were eliminated and several inappropriate transmission costs were removed from the Fuel Adjustment Clause surcharge. Also, Noranda Aluminum received a special rate for three years, together with several consumer protections that CCM recommended.
- Provided comments in a case opened to investigate Missouri-American company’s proposal to have a rate that automatically adjusts upward when consumers use less water.
- Continued to work with the Fixed Charge Coalition, a nationwide group of consumer advocates, environmental advocates and low-income advocates objecting to raising the fixed charge on utility bills. Raising the charge lowers the usage components of a bill, taking away some of the consumer’s ability to control a bill and discouraging energy efficiency.
- Filed an amicus brief in the Office of Public Counsel’s lawsuit against Missouri-American Water Company’s surcharge for replacing infrastructure. The suit points out that the law passed in 2003 allowing the surcharge is no longer valid because of a decrease in St. Louis County’s population in the 2010 census.
- With allies, succeeded in getting a legislative hearing for the Utility Transparency and Fairness Act, which would require all regulated utilities to file quarterly earnings reports publicly so the public knows when a utility is overearning and require the PSC to determine how a rate increase would impact consumers before it sets the allowable profit for a utility.
- With allies, defeated three anti-consumer utility bills before the legislature.
- Continued to participate with the Fair Energy Rate Action Federation (FERAF) in the Capitol in Jefferson City, which is made up of organizations representing individual consumers as well as commercial and industrial consumers.
Health Care Access
CCM’s work focused on providing health insurance rate review for the first time in the state’s history. Missouri is the only state that has no laws requiring that health insurance companies file proposed rate much less that they be reviewed by the Department of Insurance or challenged by consumers. The Affordable Care Act provides for review of rates before implementation. The Department of Health and Human Services identified five states with inadequate rate review laws and processes, and the law provides that HHS will see that rate review happens in those states. During the first two years of the ACA – 2013 and 2014 – HHS failed to do that in Missouri. In 2015 CCM:
- Finished a contract with Missouri Foundation for Health that reviewed and explored issues concerning insurance rates under the ACA in Missouri and prepared consumer materials for rate review in future years.
- As a result of HHS’s failure to fulfill a Freedom of Information Act Request to provide adequate information about ACA rates, filed a lawsuit in January against HHS seeking the information. A few months later, during the course of the lawsuit, HHS began to provide rate information from the previous years and agreed to provide the proposed rates for 2016 on June 1 throughout the country.
- With a new contract from MFH, performed the state’s first-ever rate review and commented officially to HHS with objections to rates that CCC deemed to be unreasonable.
- Entered into a conversation with HHS regarding our experience with rate review in the hope that HHS will adopt some of our suggestions to make rate review in Missouri more beneficial for consumers.
- Met with MFH to debrief CCM’s work on rate review and agreed to present a proposal for rate review work in 2016.
- Participated in advocating for the expansion of Medicaid in Missouri through its memberships in Missouri Healthcare for All, Missouri Medicaid Coalition and Physicians for a National Health Program.
Consumers Council was active over the past year in various aspects of issues relating to personal finance:
- Participated as a member of St. Louis Equal Housing and Community Reinvestment Alliance. SLEHCRA’s work has resulted in the Department of Justice announcing a settlement with Eagle Bank and Trust regarding a fair lending complaint because of its poor performance on its Community Reinvestment Act review. In addition, a total of seven new full-service bank branches have opened in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods with predominantly minority populations. Among them: Midwest BankCentre in Pagedale and Reliance Bank in the Grove neighborhood of St. Louis. Also, more than $2.4 billion in total community development loans and investments has been committed to projects in St. Louis that provide affordable housing, spur economic development opportunities, revitalize neighborhoods or otherwise help low and moderate-income individuals and communities.
- Received a $5,000 grant from SLEHCRA for capacity building.
- Participated in the St. Louis Regional Unbanked Taskforce, which identifies and addresses systemic and individual barriers that bar unbanked and under-banked households from traditional banking.
C.A.R.S.: After four years of working with Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (C.A.R.S.), CCM was able to celebrate the coalition’s success in persuading the U.S. Congress to pass legislation stopping the rental of recalled cars that have not been repaired. On Friday, December 4, President Obama signed into law the omnibus transportation bill that contained the rental car safety language. CCM received $2,000 from C.A.R.S. for its work this year on the bill.
Fan Freedom: CCM in coalition with a national organization, Fan Freedom, challenged Ticketmaster’s pre-purchase disclosures to consumers of the restrictions on paperless tickets by working with board member state Rep. Tracy McCreery, who filed a bill in the Legislature barring the restrictions. The Standing Committee on Emerging Issues passed the bill by a vote of 10 to 0 and the Select Standing Committee on General Laws passed it by a vote of 5 to 4. CCM worked also with Attorney General Chris Koster’s office to publicize the agreement the AG reached with Ticketmaster regarding making restrictions on paperless tickets more explicit on its website.
- CCM awarded Senator Claire McCaskill the Alberta Slavin Award for her work on the rental car recall legislation and other efforts on behalf of consumers.
- With a $2,700 grant from Consumer Federation of America, CCM engaged a consultant to build a database to enable better record keeping and communication with members and allies.
- John Coffman, Consumer Utility Counsel, continued to be active in his professional organization, National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA), contributing his experience and knowledge on the national level and learning from his colleagues.
- CCM continues as a state affiliate of the Consumer Federation of America, enabling it to take advantage of CFA’s resources and conferences.