By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times | http://lat.ms/rdfmcM
|\Richard Vladovic told the story about his difficulties with MetLife at a recent board meeting. Apparently he was so convincing that three other board members voted with him against the contract. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times / July 10, 2007)|| |
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The Met Life Building>> (formerly the Pan Am building)
September 6, 2011 - A Los Angeles school board member persuaded his colleagues to kill a multimillion-dollar contract with an insurance company last week after he claimed he was wrongly billed and then received lousy customer service.
Richard Vladovic said the trouble with MetLife's dental insurance began shortly after his dentist outfitted him for a mouth guard because he had been grinding his teeth.
The cost of the appliance wasn't entirely covered by MetLife, the dental insurance provider for Vladovic and nearly 100,000 current or former Los Angeles Unified School District employees.
Vladovic said he got a letter from MetLife several months later, saying that it had overpaid the dentist and was going to take the amount out of his deductible. When Vladovic called to complain, he said, he was bounced between offices in New York and California. When he finally reached a representative, the man refused to tell Vladovic his full name and hung up on the two-term school board member.
Vladovic told the story at last week's board meeting, and apparently was so convincing that three other board members voted with him against the contract, a move that could disrupt the dental coverage for thousands of L.A. Unified staff members.
"When I see an injustice I have to bring it up," Vladovic said.
Board members Bennett Kayser, Steve Zimmer and Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte joined Vladovic in voting against the contract, which would have gone into effect Jan. 1 and replaced a previous MetLife agreement. The company is the larger of the district's two dental insurers.
The insurance contract typically is approved without any board discussion, especially because a district committee had recommended it. The contract was part of a $476-million package that included vision and drug plans.
Vladovic, who represents schools in the area around San Pedro, later said that MetLife ultimately didn't take the overpayment from his deductible and even wrote him a "halfhearted" apology. Still, Vladovic began asking other people if they liked the plan and "there wasn't a nice word about MetLife," he said.
A MetLife spokeswoman declined to comment.
It was unclear how much attention other board members or district staff initially were paying to the outspoken Vladovic, who typically restricts his anger to such topics as reduced state educational funding requiring teacher layoffs, but he's also known to take on other subjects. He recently complained that the producers of the Cameron Diaz film "Bad Teacher" owed educators an apology.
District officials appeared somewhat alarmed when they realized that Vladovic wanted the board to reject the contract.
"The impact to our employees could be fairly significant," said Enrique Boull't, the interim chief operating officer.
Others noted that employees are scheduled to sign up for benefits in November and that they did not currently have a replacement for MetLife.
But Vladovic said he thought other companies would be interested in the job.
"I'm not going to be threatened by MetLife," he said.
Vladovic and others later noted that the district successfully required a workers' compensation company to provide better customer service during contract negotiations after many district employees complained.
Board member Tamar Galatzan, who voted to approve the contract, questioned Vladovic's timing.
"If one of my colleagues has a concern, the time and place would have been much, much earlier," said Galatzan, who added that she is covered by the plan and has never had any problems.
And Kayser was initially opposed to the contract upon hearing of Vladovic's plight, especially because he said he also found MetLife representatives uncooperative. But Kayser said he would call for another vote because he misunderstood the issue and thought the board was debating whether to reprimand MetLife, not kill the contract.
"I'm a newbie," said Kayser, who began serving his first term this summer.
Vladovic said he was aware that MetLife might be back but that he would stand firm.
"If they treated me like that," Vladovic said, "they must be treating other people worse."