The Southern Benefit connection

by Patrick Flanagan

One burning question from last year's controversial attempt by the LPSB to select a health plan administrator was whether the selection of insurance consultant Rina Tikia was a back-door approach to ensuring Southern Benefit Services gets a cut of the action.

One burning question from last year's controversial attempt by the LPSB to select a health plan administrator was whether the selection of insurance consultant Rina Tikia was a back-door approach to ensuring Southern Benefit Services gets a cut of the action.

IND readers will recall that Southern Benefit Services is the company owned by Wayne Elmore, the entity adamantly backed during the 2012 selection process by board members Tehmi Chassion and Hunter Beasley. It was later discovered and reported exclusively by The IND that Chassion had a reason for his staunch support of Southern Benefit: His half-brother, City-Parish Councilman Brandon Shelvin, stood to gain financially from a contract with the school system. Despite his apparent conflict of interest, Chassion never recused himself from voting to hire Southern Benefit.

Southern Benefit didn't get the system's business; soon after, however, high-priced consultant Tikia entered the picture as the school system's consultant. Her recommendation of little-known Indiana-based Key Benefit Administrators over Blue Cross and Blue Shield in the RFP process - along with what many viewed as a ridiculous claim that the system could save $8 million annually - raised suspicions from just about every corner of the school system and the general public. More important, it immediately had those doubtful of her claims looking for a possible connection with Southern Benefit Services, which did not submit a bid during last year's RFP.

Was this Chassion et al's Plan B, a back-door push for the board to end its long-term relationship with Blue Cross and Blue Shield to pave the way for Southern Benefit to get in on the action? After all, unlike Blue Cross, Key Benefit would have ultimately subcontracted out to various third-party vendors, likely those it had previous relationships with. Conspiracy theorists started having a field day, many predicting Southern Benefit would get a portion of the business and others even speculating that a merger was in the works between Key and Southern.

Tikia, aiming to quash those suspicions, publicly denied at a school board meeting that she had any affiliation whatsoever with Southern Benefit.

Why, then, does her name appear in online documents as a contact for Southern Benefit?

According to a Dunn & Bradstreet profile of Southern Benefit Services, Tikia is listed as the company's main contact. Another profile listed on and based off the D&B information also shows an affiliation between Tikia and Southern Benefit Services, listing her as the company's "Mbr." According to our sources in the industry, "Mbr," which they say is not a familiar term, may be an abbreviation for "member" or possibly "managing broker."

When reached by phone Monday, Tikia declined to comment, only saying, "I don't have anything to say to you, I'm sorry, goodbye."

On the heels of the Chassion-tainted 2012 selection process, Board President Hunter Beasley spearheaded an effort to change the insurance selection process by replacing the school system's insurance advisory committee - a group comprised of active and retired educators - with a consultant, and ultimately led the board in its selection of Tikia (though a contract with her was never signed). Beasley's main backer in Tikia's selection was Chassion.

"I never saw any reference to her and Southern Benefits and I never heard her talking about it as far as any connection or whatever," says Beasley, who spoke Monday by phone with The IND. "I'm sure she represents different companies and different entities, and I wouldn't see it as a conflict of interest."

That's certainly not how we see it. An independent consultant should never be listed as a contact for a third party administrator, regardless of whether that TPA is vying for the work. Only a year ago Southern Benefit was indeed trying to get its hands on the contract.

The IND emailed Chassion for this story, but he has yet to reply.

A look at his voting record certainly raises the eyebrow. While a majority of the board was on the fence on whether to award the contract to Key Benefit Administrators, that wasn't the case for Chassion, starting with his Sept. 4 motion to hire KBA. That motion didn't carry, but Chassion came back at the Sept. 18 with the same motion, which again didn't gain enough votes from his fellow board members. That changed on Oct. 2, when Chassion was finally joined by a board majority in voting to hire KBA. Then, at a special meeting held Oct. 22, the board reversed its decision and ruled the contract with KBA null and void. The only board members against that decision were Chassion and Rae Trahan.

Chassion's voting record reveals he wanted Key Benefit to get the business, and he wanted it badly.

It's also worth noting that Chassion's recent phone call to the police with claims he'd been aggressively grabbed by Superintendent Pat Cooper and spun around in his swivel chair resulted from a closed-door discussion of a demand letter submitted by Tikia, who claims she's owed a staggering $200,000 by the school system.

Chassion's fellow board members voted unanimously at a special meeting last week against caving to her demand for payment, sending a loud message that they will fight her in court. Chassion missed the vote, having arrived late to the meeting.

Sure makes you wonder...