NYC Retirees Fight Their Own Unions to Stop Catastrophic Health Care Cuts

Defying two years of protests and lawsuits by union retirees, New York Metropolis’s Municipal Labor Committee voted Thursday to scrap a few of the greatest retiree well being care protection within the nation. The change goals to place 250,000 metropolis retirees right into a for-profit Medicare Benefit plan run by Aetna.

Twenty-six unions within the MLC voted no, whereas others abstained. However their votes have been swamped by the votes of the most important unions on the committee, AFSCME District Council 37 and the New York United Federation of Academics.

Retirees and energetic members protested through the MLC vote and marched to Metropolis Corridor. The NYC Group of Public Service Retirees guarantees to sue. They’re additionally asking the town council to strengthen the legislation defending retiree well being care.

The New York Metropolis battle has wider implications as for-profit Medicare Benefit insurance coverage corporations come underneath fireplace for second-guessing doctors, blocking patient care, and ripping off the public whereas they roll in document income.

Numbers Don’t Add Up

States and municipalities have increasingly tried to place retirees into Medicare Benefit plans as soon as they attain age 65. The place unions have fought the change, as in Washington state and Vermont, they’ve been in a position to stop the swap. However in New York Metropolis, retirees have been combating not simply the town but additionally their very own unions to maintain from being shunted right into a for-profit plan.

Public workers in New York Metropolis have given up so much through the years to maintain their ironclad retiree well being care protection, and it paid off till now. Together with paying conventional Medicare premiums, the town pays for a wrap-around complement known as Senior Care that picks up almost all prices not lined by Medicare, together with drug advantages.

Leaders of District Council 37 and the UFT declare the Medicare Benefit plan will lower your expenses and supply the identical protection. However the numbers don’t add up, mentioned Len Rodberg, a retired Metropolis College of New York well being coverage skilled who can be affected by the change. “Medicare Benefit begins out 20 % beneath what Medicare does, when it comes to precise cash out there to spend on well being care,” Rodberg mentioned.

Conventional Medicare pays 3 % overhead. In contrast, Medicare Benefit plans must make a revenue for shareholders, they usually additionally pay big govt salaries and keep monumental staffs to guard their revenue margins by delaying and denying care. In these for-profit plans, Rodberg mentioned, “mainly something that prices cash would want pre-approval.”

MLC leaders mentioned their consultants informed them the distinction could be picked up by the federal authorities, Rodberg mentioned. However whereas the federal authorities used to subsidize for-profit Medicare Benefit plans 20 % over what they paid out for conventional Medicare sufferers, that subsidy is now right down to 2 %.

Medicare Benefit plans additionally reduce prices by contracting with sure suppliers. This implies the insurance coverage firm will solely pay for care offered by sure docs or hospitals. For retirees who transfer to states with spotty protection, Rodberg mentioned, “out of the blue their Medicare card gained’t work, trigger they’re in Medicare Benefit, not Medicare.”

Fast Response

Retired trainer Gloria Brandman heard concerning the change in 2021 from mates in PSC-CUNY, the union of school and workers on the Metropolis College of New York. She and different trainer retirees swung into motion, holding a webinar that drew 400 individuals. The recording of the webinar circulated broadly, resulting in whirlwind of protest which pressured UFT’s president, Michael Mulgrew, to carry a city corridor the place he tried to promote the change.

Retirees from the academics, AFSCME, and a number of other uniformed service unions shaped a Cross-Union Retirees Organizing Committee to battle. Brandman and different CROC activists hounded newly elected Mayor Eric Adams at each alternative.

They rallied when the MLC met: “We marched on the most popular day of the 12 months,” Brandman recalled. They held a Valentine’s Day “Don’t Break Our Hearts, Mayor Adams” occasion.

In October they held a “Halloween Horror” press convention, saying “Mayor Adams, You’re Scaring Us to Loss of life.” (“Loss of life masks non-obligatory,” mentioned the invitation flier).

No Magic Financial savings

A metropolis legislation requires that every one the well being care choices the town gives be premium-free. That legislation turned out to be an vital backstop, and the NYC Group of Public Service Retirees sued to get it enforced. A decide agreed that it was in opposition to the legislation for the town to cost seniors an additional $191 per 30 days to remain in unique Medicare.

So Adams and the MLC management requested the Metropolis Council to alter the legislation. They walked right into a buzz noticed. After vigorous protests and reams of testimony from retirees and energetic union members objecting to the change — which might have undermined energetic members’ well being care as effectively — the Metropolis Council declined to change the legislation.

In her testimony earlier than the council, Jen Gaboury, PSC chapter chair at Hunter School mentioned, “We all know these ‘financial savings’ don’t come from some model of personal enterprise magic. In case you get this cash, you’ll be denying care and/or delaying therapy to your personal individuals, older metropolis employees.”

Contracts Held Hostage

A part of the issue is that the unions created a $600 million gap within the final spherical of contracts they usually’re attempting to plug it now. They negotiated to make use of a well being care stabilization fund, designed to equalize prices between well being plans for energetic members, to bolster wage will increase. Now the fund is broke and that threatens to boost well being care prices for energetic members.

On the Metropolis Council hearings, PSC-CUNY proposed a way out of this mess. Retired professor James Perlstein described it in his testimony: “(a) Redirect funds the Metropolis holds in reserve to bridge the Municipal Labor Committee Stabilization Fund for 3 years, (b) Create a stakeholders fee charged with discovering a path to manage well being care spending, with hospital pricing as a precedence, and (c) Develop a sustainable mechanism for funding Metropolis medical health insurance.” PSC additionally instructed that New York Metropolis’s very worthwhile non-profit hospitals contribute, since they don’t pay taxes.

None of those steps have been taken, to this point. As a substitute, metropolis directors proceed to push Medicare Benefit. “The town’s taken a hardball place that it gained’t negotiate new contracts till the unions save them $600 million by shifting ahead with Medicare Benefit plan,” mentioned Rodberg in February. The town guarantees to replenish the stabilization fund with the estimated $600 million it is going to save from the swap.

AFSCME DC 37 members have been working for 18 months with no contract. Just lately the town and the union inked a tentative settlement with raises that don’t even sustain with inflation. Different metropolis unions object that this low bar will hurt them negotiations, because the the town expects the primary settlement settled by a serious metropolis union to set a sample which the opposite municipal unions will largely comply with.

And whereas members will get to vote on the settlement, they gained’t be capable of vote on the retiree well being care concession their union agreed to behind closed doorways. It appears that evidently as a situation for settling, the dominant MLC unions agreed to impose what the retirees name “the nuclear choice,” intentionally misreading the town legislation they tried to alter, and making Medicare Benefit the one choice for retirees.

Any retiree who desires to remain in conventional Medicare must pay for all of their protection, as if they’d no union in any respect.

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